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Getting physicians onboarded, aligned and engaged

Insight Article - December 14, 2021

Recruitment & Hiring

Professional Development

Culture & Engagement

There’s one thing most medical practices have in common regardless of their specialties or how well they perform: They all face an uphill task in recruiting top physician talent and holding onto them for the long term.

By 2034, primary care is projected to face a physician shortage between 17,800 and 48,000 physicians, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC); in nonprimary care specialties, that range is 21,000 to 77,100 physicians, with particularly high estimates for surgical specialties and areas such as anesthesiology, neurology, emergency medicine and addiction medicine.1

While any medical group that’s growing will need to eventually recruit and hire from that increasingly competitive field of candidates, the role of minimizing turnover can be a vital part of overall success.

As Mitzi Kent, RN, BSN, partner with Barlow/McCarthy, and Chris Hyers, MBA, FACHE, vice president of strategy and business development, UConn Health, noted in their presentation at the 2021 Medical Practice Excellence: Leaders Conference, the components of a physician alignment process should match the strategic goals for physicians and the organization so that onboarding becomes very effective in ensuring newly hired physicians’ success.

Hyers’ example of how to do this comes from his experience at UConn Health, where there are more than 600 employed physicians — and an average of about 40 new ones for the past five years.

With so many new faces, it’s crucial that their first impressions of the organization aren’t just about orientation — where to find key people and things — and instead a true onboarding experience that has “an intentional strategy to make that provider successful in the practice’s eyes and in their eyes,” Hyers said. Kent added that a successful onboarding increases retention, decreases ramp-up time for the physician, increases productivity and boosts system alignment.

But the difficulty is organizations living up to their hopes of effectively onboarding new physicians. Kent noted that those successful programs often require a formalized process that is followed for every physician and develops over months as opposed to just days or weeks. Elements such as assigned mentors are usually crucial for success.

Bringing together parties from across the organization in a coordinated way is key in starting those efforts, Hyers said. “Unless you think about this from a holistic approach, what you’re going to get is a physician moving from place to place, falling in gaps,” Hyers said, as it’s easy for various departments (such as credentialing, IT, scheduling) to only do their part and move on.

Hyers reflected on his initial challenge in joining UConn Health: Despite being an attractive university with new facilities being built, it was still taking three years or longer for new providers to reach expected productivity levels. With that problem came millions in lost revenue, unhappy providers, high turnover and a lot of blame.

Recognizing that issue, the UConn Health team set out to get physicians up to productivity levels quickly, while reducing dissatisfaction and the associated turnover. To aid in those objectives, the organization created ambassadors — physicians who had been through new processes and were champions of how the organization functions.

Additionally, the solution needed to be standardized and a priority placed on the first 45 days of a new provider’s work at the organization. Recognizing that everyone faces some degree of uncertainty in starting a new job, UConn Health focused on overcommunicating important information in those early weeks so new physicians quickly felt comfortable “and nothing is left to chance,” Hyers added, whether that’s finding a local bank branch or a place to eat.

Onboarding alignment: Marrying the technical and the tactical

Hyers’ team breaks down the work on onboarding and alignment into two areas: A formal, standardized technical orientation checklist, and then tactical pieces that build upon that foundation to grow business and help new physicians reach expected productivity as quickly as possible.

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