Dr. Hospitalist: HM Groups Must Adapt to New Career Landscape

Dear Dr. Hospitalist:

Over the past several years, we have had a problem with physician retention, especially with nocturnists, in our medium-sized hospitalist group. Do you have any suggestions (beyond the obvious “more money”) to help us retain our hospitalists?

Missing My Friends in the Midwest

Dr. Hospitalist responds:

Dr. Hospitalist

Since its inception, hospital medicine has been a very attractive field for practicing medicine, and although growth was phenomenal for many years (especially 2000–2010), it has leveled off over the past five years. With this exceptional growth have come increased salaries, geographically diverse job locations, and more opportunities for career development.

One of the most significant changes over the past 10 years is that hospital medicine is no longer seen as a bridge from residency to fellowship or as a stopover while waiting on the ideal job. Physicians now see hospital medicine as a career choice and are more likely to search for the “ideal” hospitalist job.

Although competitive salaries are important and a necessary starting point, to attract and keep career hospitalists, HM groups (HMGs) will need to offer opportunities for professional growth and leadership as well as flexible schedules.

Many larger HMGs offer several different schedule models, from the ubiquitous seven-on/seven-off schedule (54%, according to the 2014 State of Hospital Medicine report) to the more traditional five-day workweek with vacation time. Many also choose to work part- or full-time as a nocturnist and, in doing so, earn substantially more money (15%–20% differential). The flexible schedule and the ability to work part- or full-time have been very attractive to those clinicians just starting families or attaining another degree (MBAs are becoming very popular).

While there have always been the “check-in, check-out” docs who did their seven and didn’t want to be bothered during their time off, there were typically enough gunners around to pick up the slack. With the Millennial generation’s pervasive aim for work-life balance, it might become more difficult to find even a few who are willing to go the extra mile in hopes of career advancement. Mix in a very robust job market with a proclivity to travel, and you have a recipe for high attrition.

Like any new profession or specialty, HM will have to evolve and adjust to keep these new docs anchored. We will need to consider offering vacation time, especially for those who are willing to work a traditional Monday–Friday schedule. For those in academia with an interest in promotion, there should be real opportunities for advancement instead of the traditional “time in rank” and other nebulous requirements. There should be robust mentoring for all docs and especially for those just out of residency. The clinicians who express an interest in having an office in the C-Suite should be given a clear path and guidance.

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