Physician Turnover Rises as Economy Improves

April 18, 2011

Physician turnover is once again on the upswing, as the U.S. economic recovery encourages doctors to retire or seek opportunities elsewhere, according to an annual survey. Young women doctors and pre-retirement male physicians experienced the highest turnover rates.

Physician turnover is once again on the upswing, as the U.S. economic recovery encourages doctors to retire or seek opportunities elsewhere, according to an annual survey by Cejka Search Inc. and the American Medical Group Association. Young women doctors and pre-retirement male physicians experienced the highest turnover rates.

In 2010, total physician turnover was 6.1%, up from 5.9% a year earlier. The change was consistent with anecdotal reports and findings in its 2008 survey, when the declining economy and imploding housing market prompted physicians to delay plans for retirement or relocation, which are key drivers of recruitment activity, according to the study.

The majority of survey respondents said they believe that physician retirement will increase (27%), or continue at the current rate (65%). These indicators could alert medical groups to prepare for greater turnover in 2011 as improvements in the marketplace make it more conducive for physicians to retire or relocate.

"Although shortages still persist in today's physician workforce, we have seen exponential growth in the size of medical groups, many of which are taking the lead in developing new care models that will increase patient access and keep physician satisfaction and retention high," said Dr. Donald W. Fisher, AMGA president and chief executive officer.

Over the last five years, turnover rates have consistently trended higher for young, full-time female physicians and pre-retirement male physicians, according to Lori Schutte, president of physician recruiting firm Cejka Search, headquartered in St. Louis. “Offering flexible work options can be effective in retaining a strong physician workforce and investing in the retention of physicians at all stages of their careers will pay long-term dividends for medical groups," she said in a statement.

Among the studies other findings:

• About half (51%) of respondents said they do not encourage physicians to delay their retirement, but nearly half do in some circumstances. Of those who try to keep physicians in practice, they most frequently incent them with flexible hours (90. 6%), no call (62.5%) and/or reduced call (65.6%).

• Over the last five years, the part-time physician workforce has grown by 62%, with 13% of male physicians and 36% of female physician practicing part-time.

• Nearly three-quarters of medical groups surveyed said they believe mentoring reduces turnover, but a little more than half (56.1%) assign a mentor to newly hired physicians. The turnover rate for medical groups that do assign a mentor was one percentage point lower (5.3%) than for groups that don’t assign a mentor (6.3%).

The study also found that medical groups anticipate physician hiring to continue to pick up through 2011, and most said they intend to hire more, or significantly more, primary care physicians. Nearly as many said they will be hiring more, or significantly more, specialists (79%) and advanced practitioners (78%).