It’s no secret that hiring medical assistants (MAs) following The Great Resignation has been a challenge, affecting almost all practices, and that MAs have been among the toughest non-physician roles to hire in recent years, according to past MGMA Stat polls.
So, what’s the secret to improving recruitment and hiring strategies for medical groups to get talented candidates on board and stay there for the long term? That’s what a June 6, 2023, MGMA Stat poll sought to find out.
About two-thirds of medical group leaders (67%) report they updated recruiting and retention strategies for MAs in the past year, versus 33% that did not. The poll had 383 applicable responses.
Among the one-third of practice leaders who responded “no,” MGMA asked if they were having difficulty hiring or retaining MAs. Many of these respondents pointed to an extreme scarcity of applicants for the open jobs they’ve posted. As for those not reporting such difficulty, they were asked which factors drove their success.
- In many cases, the respondents’ organizations mostly use nurses and have little need to recruit or retain MAs. Other respondents in college towns that can hire a lot of pre-med students in their gap year report good hiring but a decent amount of turnover every May and June.
- Others pointed to strong organizational culture and team atmospheres that make employees want to stay.
What’s working in recruitment and retention
The range of strategies being used to recruit and retain MAs is as varied as the task has been difficult in recent years. As one practice leader told MGMA: “First we completed a new market analysis to see our position in the market with pay. We have brought our pay scale more in line with the study results. We have made our referral program more robust. We are requiring our management to be more proactive with performance feedback to our new hires, as well as ensuring all 90-day reviews are completed. We feel good communication, true interest in the employee well-being and competitive pay are the core for retaining employees in this competitive market.”
Some of the most common responses from other respondents to the poll included:
- Increased compensation (including equity pay adjustments) and bonus incentives
- Increased use of sign-on bonuses tied to a one- or two-year commitment
- Efforts to match outside offer letters and not requiring certification for some candidates with experience
- Engaging outside agencies to build a larger pool of candidates
- Expanding advertising of open jobs, as well and broadening a practice’s presence at local job fairs and making offers on the spot
- Increased collaboration with nearby MA school programs, as well as apprenticeship programs and outreach to high school students to encourage them to consider work as MAs
- Implementation of in-house training and certification programs, often alongside cross-training efforts
- Creating career ladders within the organization with tuition support
- More part-time positions for workers who prefer to not work full time
- Transitioning mostly administrative duties off MAs’ plates.
Building MA training capacity
One of the biggest obstacles to hiring MAs during the post-pandemic labor market has been the scarcity of training capacity for new MAs to join the workforce. As detailed in the July 2022 MGMA Connection magazine, Cone Health in North Carolina invested in its own training program to pick up where the nearby community colleges and technical schools were unable to keep pace with the demand for certified MAs (CMAs).
Similar programs have shown positive results in recent months. According to Community College Daily, the Alamo Colleges District — a network of community colleges in San Antonio, Texas — partnered with the College of Health Care Professions to build an “earn-and-learn” MA program catering to working adults who sought flexible and evening class schedules to become CMAs. The program is funded for the next four years via a 1/8-cent sales tax that helps pay for workforce development in the area, according to Diverse Education.
Training MAs for new technologies
Even though the long-term future of telehealth is uncertain, as the industry shifts beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency, the vast expansion of virtual care delivery is still an important topic for healthcare leaders looking ahead to future workforce training and development strategies.
A recent report by the University of Washington (UW) Center for Health and Workforce Studies suggests that MAs using telehealth during the pandemic were capable of the transition but could have benefited from more education and training on virtual care services, as reported by mHealth Intelligence.
The study also noted telehealth training alongside the other elements of evolving MA roles as the industry shifts, especially in the primary care space: “The most common roles that surveyed physicians reported MAs could take on with proper training included those related to population health: management of patients with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, identifying patients in need of preventive screening and EHR data extraction for managing patient panels,” the UW report read.
Watch the MGMA Insights newsletter later this month for the release of the 2023 MGMA DataDive Management and Staff Compensation data report.
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