Practice Economics

MGMA Surveys Make Hospitalists' Productivity Hard to Assess


Extra shifts are sometimes even required by the practice to make up for open positions. And in some places, the hospitalists choose not to fill positions to preserve their ability to continue working more than the number of shifts required to be full time.

SHM and MGMA Survey History

SHM’s State of Hospital Medicine reports for 2010, 2011, and 2012 incorporated MGMA data with its limit of 1.0 FTE per doctor, even for doctors who worked many extra shifts. But SHM surveys prior to 2010 provided for a single doctor to be assigned more than 1.0 FTE. For example, a doctor working 20% more shifts than what a practice defined as full time would have gone into those surveys as 1.2 FTE.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) surveys regard both a doctor who works the standard number of annual shifts their practice defines as full time, and a doctor who works many extra shifts, as one full-time equivalent (FTE). This can cause confusion when assessing productivity per FTE (see “SHM and MGMA Survey History,” right).

For example, consider a hospitalist who generated 4,000 wRVUs while working 182 shifts—the standard number of shifts to be full time in that doctor’s practice—during the survey year. In the same practice, another hospitalist worked 39 extra shifts over the same year for a total of 220 shifts, generating 4,860 wRVUs. If the survey contained only these two doctors, it would show them both as full time, with an average productivity per FTE of 4,430 wRVUs. But that would be misleading because 1.0 FTE worth of work as defined by their practice for both doctors would have come to 4,000 wRVUs generated while working 182 shifts.

In prior columns, I’ve highlighted some other numbers in hospitalist productivity and compensation surveys that can lead to confusion. But the MGMA survey methodology, which assigns a particular FTE to a single doctor, may be the most confusing issue, potentially leading to meaningful misunderstandings.

More Details on FTE Definition

MGMA has been conducting physician compensation and productivity surveys across essentially all medical specialties for decades. Competing organizations conduct similar surveys, but most regard the MGMA survey as the most relevant and valuable.

For a long time, MGMA has regarded as “full time” any doctor working 0.75 FTE or greater, using the respondent practice’s definition of an FTE. No single doctor can ever be counted as more than 1.0 FTE, regardless of how much extra the doctor may have worked. Any doctor working 0.35-0.75 FTE is regarded as part time, and those working less than 0.35 FTE are excluded from the survey report. The fact that each practice might have a different definition of what constitutes an FTE is addressed by having a large number of respondents in most medical specialties.

I’m uncertain how MGMA ended up not counting any single doctor as more than 1.0 FTE, even when they work a lot of extra shifts. But my guess is that for the first years, or even decades, that MGMA conducted its survey, few, if any, medical practices even had a strict definition of what constituted 1.0 FTE and simply didn’t keep track of which doctors worked extra shifts or days. So even if MGMA had wanted to know, for example, when a doctor worked extra shifts and should be counted as more than 1.0 FTE, few if any practices even thought about the precise number of shifts or days worked constituting full time versus what was an “extra” shift. So it probably made sense to simply have two categories: full time and part time.

As more practices began assigning FTE with greater precision, like nearly all hospitalist practices do, then using 0.75 FTE to separate full time and part time seemed practical, though imprecise. But keep in mind it also means that all of the doctors who work from 0.75 to 0.99 FTE (that is, something less than 1.0) offset, at least partially, those who work lots of extra shifts (i.e., above 1.0 FTE).

Data Application

My anecdotal experience is that a large portion of hospitalists, probably around half, work more shifts than what their practice regards as full time. I don’t know of any survey database that quantifies this, but my guess is that 25% to 35% of full-time hospitalists work extra shifts at their own practice, and maybe another 15% to 20% moonlight at a different practice. Let’s consider only those in the first category.

Chronic staffing shortages is one of the reasons hospitalists so commonly work extra shifts at their own practice. Extra shifts are sometimes even required by the practice to make up for open positions. And in some places, the hospitalists choose not to fill positions to preserve their ability to continue working more than the number of shifts required to be full time.

It would be great if we had a precise way to adjust the MGMA survey data for hospitalists who work above 1.0 FTE. For example, let’s make three assumptions so that we can then adjust the reported compensation and productivity data to remove the effect of the many doctors working extra shifts, thereby more clearly matching 1.0 FTE. These numbers are my guesses based on lots of anecdotal experience. But they are only guesses. Don’t make too much of them.

Assume 25% of hospitalists nationally work an average of 20% more than the full-time number of shifts for their practice. That is my best guess and intentionally leaves out those who moonlight for a practice other than their own.

Some portion of those working extra shifts (above 1.0 FTE) is offset by survey respondents working between 0.75 and 1.0 FTE, resulting in a wild guess of a net 20% of hospitalists working extra shifts.

Last, let’s assume that their productivity and compensation on extra shifts is identical to their “normal” shifts. This is not true for many practices, but when aggregating the data, it is probably reasonably close.

Using these assumptions (guesses, really), we can decrease both the reported survey mean and median productivity and compensation by about 5% to more accurately reflect results for hospitalists doing only the number of shifts required by the practice to be full time—no extra shifts. I’ll spare you the simple math showing how I arrived at the approximately 5%, but basically it is removing the 20% additional compensation and productivity generated by the net 20% of hospitalists who work extra shifts above 1.0 FTE.

Does It Really Matter?

The whole issue of hospitalists working many extra shifts yet only counting as 1.0 FTE in the MGMA survey might matter a lot for some, and others might see it as useless hand-wringing. As long as a meaningful number of hospitalists work extra shifts, then survey values for productivity and compensation will always be a little higher than the “average” 1.0 FTE hospitalists working no extra shifts. But it may still be well within the range of error of the survey anyway. And the compensation per unit of work (wRVUs or encounters) probably isn’t much affected by this FTE issue.

Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at

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