A survey shows that 70% of physicians are disengaging from their employers, spelling future physician retention trouble for healthcare organizations.

Physician retention is a common challenge for healthcare organizations and the COVID-19 pandemic may have made it worse, according to survey results from Jackson Physician Search.

A survey of 400 practicing physicians between October 2020 and November 2020 found that about 70 percent of physicians report being actively disengaged from their employers.

The same survey also found that 54 percent of physicians are planning to make an employment change, with most of these physicians (50 percent) saying they are planning to leave their current employer for another. Another 36 percent of physicians planning an employment change said they are considering early retirement or leaving the practice of medicine altogether.

Yet just 30 percent of the smaller pool of healthcare administrators surveyed—86 administrators total—reported losing physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings suggest a “mass exit of talent” in the near future, spelling more financial troubles for hospitals, practices, and the like.

“A single physician vacancy can easily cost a healthcare organization $1 million in lost revenue, which has a detrimental impact on already financially struggling hospitals and medical practices,” Tony Stajduhar, president of Jackson Physician Search, said in a press release.

“When you also consider that recruiting a culturally aligned physician can take up to 6-12 months and cost $250,000 or more – including sourcing, relocation and sign-on bonus – greater emphasis on retaining physicians is key to meeting the healthcare needs of Americans now and into the future,” added Stajduhar.

Physician retention is key to maintaining a stable workforce now, during the pandemic, and after when healthcare organizations reengage patients who may have delayed necessary care to avoid exposure to COVID-19.

Furthermore, retaining physicians is crucial to value-based care success, which hinges on a stable network of high-quality, affordable providers, the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR) says.

However, physician retention programs are lacking or just not working for physicians.

Eighty-three percent of physicians responding to the Jackson Physician Search survey said their organization has no physician retention program in place versus 30 percent of administrators.

The significant gap between physician and administrators indicates the shortcomings of existing physician retention programs, which most administrators (55 percent) said were informal and unwritten.

Most physicians are also not satisfied with existing physician retention programs at their organizations. Only 2 percent of physicians are considered “promoters,” rating their organization’s program as a nine or a ten on a scale of one to ten with ten being very positive.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of physicians (86 percent) rated the program as a six or lower, making them “detractors” of the program.

Again, administrators were more optimistic about their physician retention programs, with 10 percent giving the program the highest rating and 30 percent scoring it as a seven or eight.

Physicians and administrators, however, did agree on which benefits are the most influential in retaining physicians. The respondents agreed that additional compensation and additional time off are the top physician retention factors.

But just 30 percent of physicians surveyed said their organization offers additional compensation and 13 percent said their organizations offer additional time off. Most physicians (40 percent) said their organization does not offer any of the benefits, including reduced call, paid sabbaticals, and gifts.

The survey results point to a growing focus on physician retention strategy, Stajduhar stated.

“Prioritizing physician engagement and retention is critical to the well-being of physicians, their patients and the healthcare organizations they serve,” said Stajduhar in the release. “The burnout physicians feel today is only exacerbated by long-standing doctor shortages and the perception by physicians that healthcare facilities rarely have a plan in place to retain them.”

To improve physician retention, provider organizations should include physicians in the decision-making process, having a visible retention program in place, and deliver an individualized orientation process, the survey suggested.

Additionally, leadership development programs can have a positive impact on physician engagement.