The physician shortage is putting a strain on healthcare organizations nationwide, and conditions will only get worse as demand increases. For some high-demand physician specialties, it can take two years or more to hire a new physician, and even getting the locum tenens coverage you need can be a challenge. In order to compete, healthcare organizations are having to act nimbly and think more creatively to meet their staffing needs. Here are seven ways to overcome the physician shortage.
1. Design a flexible schedule
“There are a lot of layers to flexibility,” says Jamie Chatten, senior director for Weatherby Healthcare’s anesthesia and psychiatry team. “With every line item you have — the skillset you need, the schedule you need covered, the clinical requirements — it’s important to remain flexible with scheduling. Facilities that are flexible are receiving the candidates they need.”
One way healthcare organizations are filling their needs is to fill open full-time positions with multiple locum tenens physicians. It isn’t always possible to fill an entire schedule with just one doctor.
“We fill a lot of full-time calendars with a multiple physician solution,” says Mark Chilton, senior director for Weatherby’s surgical team. “If a hospital needs thirty days of coverage, we might have one locum who handles fourteen of those days and two others who each do seven days. With this type of arrangement, you’re still able to do regular hand-offs and ensure continuity of care.”
“Flexible schedules are not necessarily a new idea, but you can be creative with how you allow flexible schedules to work,” Chatten says. “For example, how much can you maneuver the other physicians you have to cover cases, allowing for a wider variety of candidates? If you have the ability to spread call responsibilities amongst your current permanent staff, that’s going to open up your job to a wider candidate pool.”
Chilton also recommends using locum physicians to give your full-time physicians a well-deserved break. It’s an effective way to alleviate physician burnout when staffing levels are low.
“Burnout is the number one reason physicians leave a facility or practice, or in some cases even pursue early retirement,” says Chilton. “Use locums to give your doctors a break. Let them take a month-long vacation or do a research sabbatical that could reignite their passion for the profession. We’ve seen hospitals make it very attractive to recruit permanent physicians by offering this sort of benefit.”
2. Create a bullpen of providers
Another smart staffing strategy is to create a “bullpen” of trusted locum tenens providers on whom to call when needs arise.
“I talk to my clients about having as many qualified, credentialed providers ready to go as possible, rather than credentialing providers just when you need them,” says Ronney Davis, senior director for Weatherby’s hospital, pediatrics, and pediatric subspecialties team. “It’s a strategy that has always worked well but is especially important during periods of high demand. Having a pool of credentialed providers ready to plug and play gives a hospital more flexibility when they need coverage without a lot of lead time.”
3. Lean into advanced practice providers
When looking at the care team mix, Chilton recommends expanding your usage of advanced practice providers when physicians are in short supply. Considering advanced practice providers as an alternative when locum physicians are in short supply can widen your pool of candidates, as well as defray some of the cost of bringing in higher priced physicians.
“The role of the advanced practitioner has increased dramatically over the last decade as far as what they can do in an OR, ER, and with almost any specialty,” says Chilton. “So being able to supplement the work of two physicians with one physician and one advanced practice provider can help manage costs and maintain the delivery of quality care.”
“Even more importantly, advanced practice providers can help shoulder the workload. One of the main things we hear from physicians when they are leaving a hospital is that the support staff is light, which speaks to the need for nursing and advanced practice solutions on a temporary basis,” says Chilton. “We recently had a neurosurgeon interested in a position — he loved the facility and the administration, but he had concerns that the support staff was very light. We went to work and placed a locum surgical PA at the same facility to help strengthen the support staff. It’s a compelling example of using locums to make it a better and more attractive fit.”
4. Be open to a broader range of candidates
Every healthcare organization wants a quality match when bringing in a locum provider. But leveraging the skillset and experience that already exists within the organization can broaden the number of potential candidates, while stringent requirements can have unintended consequences by drastically narrowing the field of potential candidates for a position.
“Some locations want a very specific type of physician or only certain availability,” says Davis. “Allowing for a different demographic than you’re used to — maybe looking at a fresh graduate or an older, seasoned professional — can make a big difference. If I have a candidate who fits three of the five criteria, it may be worth getting on a call, building a relationship, and determining if there is a mutual fit. The healthcare organizations who are seeing the most success are the ones who are a bit more flexible in their search.”
Chatten adds that licensing is another important area for flexibility. He recommends healthcare leaders consider accepting candidates who are not yet licensed in their state.
“Historically, facilities in states with long licensing processes have been less likely to allow licensing. The challenge is there are only so many providers in each state who already have a medical license,” says Chatten. “Having flexibility and accepting candidates who may not be licensed in your state — but are willing to get licensed for your job — is another way to broaden your pool of applicants and find success in your recruitment efforts.”
5. Adopt a “lifetime value” mindset
Locum tenens can play a critical role in helping health systems avoid lost revenue by more nimbly addressing staffing needs. While locums are often viewed as a cost center, Chilton urges healthcare leaders to analyze the cost of “not doing business versus the cost of doing business.”
“For every patient who is unseen and ultimately leaves the system to seek care elsewhere, the multiplier effect is tremendous,” says Chilton. “Locum tenens is able to quickly fill gaps to ensure patients in the community are being seen, continuing to capture revenue for that hospital system and contributing to the lifetime value of the relationship.” Locum tenens physicians can help capture revenue that would be lost if a position goes unfilled, especially when the organization has a consistent payor enrollment process for locum providers.
6. Leverage your staffing partners
Working with a trusted partner and leveraging that partner’s strengths can be another tool to help solve the challenges presented by the physician shortage. A staffing partner can help you understand the national marketplace trends and deploy resources to help recruit candidates.
“We have a pulse on the market, and we actively share those insights with our clients,” says Davis. “In this provider-driven market, we must be creative and strategic in helping our clients solve the challenges created by physician shortages.”
A staffing partner can act as extension of your recruiting team as well. “A hospital may have three to five recruiters who are tasked with everything from recruiting physicians to hiring administrative staff and they can be spread pretty thin,” says Chilton. “Conversely, we have a team of 25 people devoted to a specialty and that type of focus can save a lot of time when you are struggling to find candidates.”
7. Ask the hard and honest questions
In this competitive hiring environment, it’s important for health systems to seek open and honest feedback to understand their needs, strengths, and opportunities for growth.
“Hospitals need to be thinking of themselves in acquisition mode, meaning they need to look at everything they do, everything they portray, every perception from the outside to be sure they’re doing everything they can to be an attractive option for candidates,” says Chatten. “This is an important time to set yourself apart, because providers have a lot of options.”
“If hospitals are having trouble fulfilling staffing needs, it’s important to ask why. Take a hard look in the mirror. Get feedback from physicians, look at exit interviews, talk to your current staff,” says Chilton. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be something negative. It could be the demand in your community versus the availability of physicians that is contributing to burnout. If you don’t have enough support, locum tenens can help alleviate that. But you have to ask yourself the question first.”
Weatherby Healthcare can help you solve your healthcare organization’s staffing challenges. Give us a call at 954.343.3050 to learn more.