This episode of the MGMA Business Solutions podcast features Tony Stajduhar, president of Jackson Physician Search, which recently published a new whitepaper on the issue of physician retirement.
As more and more of the Baby Boomer generation moves into traditional retirement age, so too will thousands of American physicians – creating a massive shortfall of healthcare professionals, as fewer and fewer younger people pursue work as doctors. Tony spoke to MGMA Sr. Editor Daniel Williams on the complex challenges ahead as retirement-ready doctors prepare to leave the field. How can practice managers better communicate with their physicians, so they have adequate time to find new doctors, when retirement does come?
Editor’s note: The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What’s going on with this wave of retirements that’s taking place in the industry? And how is it impacting practices?
A: Physicians are used to working five days a week, seeing 30 patients a day, doing calls every other night – they’ve been doing it their entire lives. They didn’t worry about the work-life balance that you hear about today. But over the years, that’s got to wear on you. So when you talk about physician burnout, if there’s burnout for physicians that are at or nearing retirement age, they deserved it, because they worked their tails off for 40-plus years. Then you add on all the things that have happened over the last several years with the pandemic and the toll that took on people mentally, physically and emotionally, and it has pushed us further and further to the edge.
Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got this huge percentage of physicians that are above the age of 55, nearing what the world thinks of as retirement age. Sure, you’re always going to have the diehard physicians that are going to say they’ll probably work until they pass. But most physicians are getting to the point where they want to have some type of plan and future outside of medicine as they go forward. There are a lot more physicians that are willing to transition than we ever thought before.
When we work with medical groups and hospitals nationwide, we usually look at their planning for the next two or three years of recruitment. And invariably, the one thing you never hear addressed is the attrition. But the average age of physicians is going to be a potential cliff that will just exacerbate the shortage even more if we don’t have some strategy in place. How do we use these people who are ‘aging out’ of the practice life?
Q: Physicians are getting to the point where they’re deciding to make changes in their workload – they might fully retire, eventually – but there’s a disconnect between that and giving notice. How can practice leaders become more strategic and develop better lines of communication with physicians?
A: Our recent study showed us that 41% of physicians think they only need to give three months’ notice, which is unbelievable. And then another 32% say four to six months. So basically 75% of physicians think as long as they give less than six months’ notice, they’re golden, and that’s all that their practice needs, and in some opinions, deserve. On the flip side, you’ve got administration, where maybe 30% feel like seven to 13 months is a minimum. But even that’s not optimal, because it’s gonna take you 12 to 18 months to recruit a physician. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out where that lands.
So we’ve got to come up with some kind of strategies as to how to do that. We need to start having open conversations with our physicians about where it’s going, what their plans are and why they want to retire. This doctor could have been working for you for 20 years. Now it’s at the point where you want to start talking to them and getting to know them better personally: “What are you thinking about? What would like to do?” Let them know that you not only want to help the facility, but that you also care about what they’re looking for and what they need to make their lives better. They’re in a stage where life should be better and they should be able to transition and do what they want – they earned it.
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