For Physician Leaders, Keeping a Strong, Healthy Clinical Staff Is Job One

With Carl Fitch

A lot is being asked of physician leaders in today’s hospitals, health systems, and medical groups. On the growing list of administrative roles that physician leaders play, recruiting, mentoring and retaining an engaged and dynamic clinical staff is at or near the top.

The ability of physicians to expertly oversee other physicians is a topic that WittKieffer consultant Carl Fitch encounters almost daily. In recruiting up-and-coming executives for WittKieffer’s Emerging Physician Leaders practice, Fitch helps clients to identify individuals who understand what it takes to maintain an exceptional clinical team. Fitch shares best practices that physician leaders can adopt in the interview below:

When you are recruiting medical directors and other up-and-coming physician leaders, do you look for an ability to cultivate an exceptional clinical staff?

Fitch: Yes. Great doctors and clinical staff are essential to success in today’s healthcare market. Patients have choices, and they’ll gravitate towards organizations with great doctors, nurses, physician assistants and medical teams. In hiring clinical leaders, then, organizations are looking for candidates who are recruiters, influencers, and communicators, and who have the deep respect of those who work under them. Can the physician leader be a magnet for exceptional clinical staff within the organization? This is a key question in recruiting today.

What tips can you offer hospitals and medical groups for recruiting great physicians, especially younger staff?

Fitch: Younger physicians are perhaps the most sophisticated, in-demand job-seekers around. Successful recruitment strategies must recognize that these younger physicians are digital natives, so organizations must invest in technology platforms. Change is a constant to them – they are early adopters who embrace new ideas as well as technologies. They also want to be connected to others, and are highly team-oriented and need to collaborate and exchange ideas. In addition, younger physicians don’t want to be fenced in – they believe work training and development are important to their “flexible” career path. Therefore, regular feedback on their goals and metrics is important. Finally, younger physicians want to do meaningful work and want to “change the world.” Appeal to these characteristics and you have a winning millennial physician recruitment strategy.

What is something that works with millennial physicians that is different from earlier recruitment tactics?

Fitch: It’s nearly impossible to hide things today, so healthcare organizations need to adopt radical transparency or risk a relationship with new physicians. Millennials are starting businesses and working independently (think gig economy) at unprecedented rates and are very interested in ownership – so put meaningful information about partnerships, buy-ins or other ownership opportunities in writing and do it early. In addition, make your ads and recruitment strategy stand out from all the thousands of others. Be creative, take some risks. Let your true culture, brand and people shine. Finally, re-visit your employee referral program. Millennials are practiced at making recommendations (eg, Yelp or TripAdvisor) and when they make a recommendation, it’s their personal brand at stake. Healthcare organizations who focus on building a truly exceptional culture, brand and place to work will win the millennial physician recruitment game.

What tips can you offer physician leaders on retaining their best clinicians?

Fitch: Physician engagement and transparency is key. Studies show that the more engaged and trusting physicians are with their organizations, the happier and more productive they are and less likely to burn out and leave. Make sure to encourage young and emerging physician leaders to play a positive and constructive role to drive quality and improve cost. Offer leadership development training or tuition reimbursement plans that allow physicians to advance their leadership skills and business acumen.

Make sure they understand that their growth and development are about improving “patient care,” which has much more value to them than trimming costs or improving standardization and waste. The focus should be on providing the highest quality of patient care, efficiently and affordably.

Use mentorship programs that team up younger, mid-career and more tenured physicians. Each physician has valuable knowledge and unique experiences that benefit the other. Finally, make sure to include spouses when hosting events to make sure they are recognized and supported.

What advice can you offer physician leaders and their organizations to help work/life balance, which may keep physicians longer on the job?

Fitch: This really cuts to the core of physician burnout. For many physicians it’s a real struggle to find this balance. Healthcare organizations need to embrace the quadruple aim – where attention is also paid to the health and well-being of caregivers in addition to improving patient experience, population health and cost.

In the future, the healthcare industry will be dominated by organizations with skilled physician leaders who understand how to take better care of their physicians and staff. To address employee and physician health, organizations are even hiring Chief Wellness Officers or designating executives to manage this issue. Physicians also need to learn that its perfectly acceptable to say “No” to less important things and “Yes” to the most important things in their lives. Otherwise, they will never find work/life balance and eventually burn out.

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