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Top Challenges 2021: #4 Hiring and retaining clinical staff

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics January 2021
Volume 98
Issue 01

In late 2020, Medical Economics® asked our physician audience what they thought would be the most challenging issues they will face this year. This is what they told us.

A practice is only as good as the people who work there but finding and keeping the right people can seem like an insurmountable task. This can be compounded with the uncertainty and increased scrutiny introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent entry in weekly studies performed by the Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative on how COVID-19 has affected primary care practices, 35% of physicians say hiring new staff is a big obstacle to their practice.

With this perennial problem only getting worse, the question remains for physician leaders on how to hire, motivate and retain clinical staff.


Target the talent by looking for candidates from areas similar to those your practice is in. This familiarity can smooth over some of the wrinkles the staff member may feel starting at a new practice.

Another suggestion is to adjust your pay system to reward hard work or to boost the total compensation package. This can take the form of creating bonuses for staff members who meet productivity goals, giving employees a sense of how they can earn more without leaving the practice.

The practice leader can also consider offering staff members growth opportunities such as enabling them to pursue more education through training. Sometimes the cost of training and giving the employee a raise can be lower than the cost of hiring another employee to handle the same new duties.

Personalized benefits, such as flexible hours or more vacation time, can be a good recruitment tool and a motivator for current staff members. Allowing newly hired physicians the ability to hire their own care teams or set their own office hours can increase their motivation.

All these changes should be documented and formalized so that, even if employment packages are individualized, they do not appear to be capricious.


An often-overlooked source for clinical staff is the newest batch of medical school graduates. While millennials may get a bad reputation in the media, they can be a key part of a health care team.

Andrew Hajde, CMPE, assistant director of association content at Medical Group Management Association in Englewood, Colorado, says the health care system is reaching a point where millennial physicians are becoming the only ones left to pick up the slack of retiring boomers and Generation Xers before Generation Z comes of age.

When hiring millennials it is important to remember that the cohort tends to put a premium on work-life balance and the feeling that their work has purpose.

Natasha Bhuyan, M.D., is a family physician and regional medical director with One Medical in Phoenix and a millennial. She says the members of her cohort no longer base their success on the hours they spend in the office or the number of patients seen.

“They’re measuring success based on fulfillment of purpose, based on developing meaningful relationships with patients and having time to connect with patients, improve their behaviors and see health results and outcomes change,” she says.

Millennial physicians are also aware that they need feedback and mentoring and can see the value in picking a senior employee’s brain to help them in their own work.

Bhuyan says this new emphasis on mentorship is closer to coaching than in years past.

“How do we coach physicians to reach the top of their potential and beyond?” she asks. “How do we push people beyond what they think is their best?”

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
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