As I gear up to welcome and onboard new hires to our hospitalist group, I could not help but reflect on my first day as a hospitalist. Fresh out of residency, my orientation was a day and a half long.
The medical director gave me a brief overview of the program. The program administrator handed me a thick folder of policies followed by a quick tour of the hospital and an afternoon training for the computerized order entry system (that was a time before EHRs). The next morning, I was given my full panel of patients, my new lab coat, and sent off into the battlefield.
I can vividly remember feeling anxious, a bit confused, and quite overwhelmed as I went through my day. The days turned into a week and the next. I kept wondering if I was doing everything right. It took me a month to feel a little more comfortable. It all turned out fine. Since nobody told me otherwise, I assumed it did.
Quite a bit has changed since then in hospital medicine. Hospital medicine groups, nowadays, have to tackle the changing landscape of payment reform, take on responsibility for an increasing range of hospital quality metrics and juggle a swath of subspecialty comanagement agreements. Hospital medicine providers function from the inpatient to the post-acute care arena, all while continuing to demonstrate their value to the hospital administration. Simultaneously, they have to ensure their providers are engaged and functioning at their optimal level while battling the ever-increasing threat of burnout.
Thus, for new hires, all the above aspects of my orientation have become critical but alas terribly insufficient. Well into its third decade, the hospital medicine job market continues to boom but remains a revolving door. Hospital medicine groups continue to grow in size and integrate across hospitals in a given health system. The vast majority of the new hires tend to be fresh out of residency. The first year remains the most vulnerable period for a new hospitalist. Hospital medicine groups must design and implement a robust onboarding program for their new hires. It goes beyond welcoming and orientation of new hires to full integration and assimilation in order to transform them into highly efficient and productive team members. Effective onboarding is table stakes for a successful and thriving hospital medicine group.
An effective onboarding program should focus on three key dimensions: the organizational, the technical, and the social.1
1. The organizational or administrative aspect: The most common aspect of onboarding is providing new hires with information on the group’s policies and procedures: what to do and how to do it. Equally essential is giving them the tools and contacts that will help them understand and navigate their first few months. Information on how to contact consultants, signing on and off shifts, and so on can be easily conveyed through documents. However, having peers and the critical administrative staff communicate other aspects such as a detailed tour of the hospital, scheduling, and vacation policies is far more effective. It provides an excellent opportunity to introduce new hires to the key personnel in the group and vice versa as new hires get familiar with the unofficial workplace language. Breaking down all this information into meaningful, absorbable boluses, spread over time, is key to avoiding information overload. Allowing new hires to assimilate and adapt to the group norms requires follow-up and reinforcement. Group leaders should plan to meet with them at predetermined intervals, such as at 30, 60, 90 days, to engage them in conversations about the group’s values, performance measurements, rewards, and the opportunities for growth that exist within the group and institution.
2. The technical or the clinical aspect: The majority of physicians and advanced providers hired to a hospital medicine group have come immediately from training. Transition into the autonomous role of an attending, or a semi-autonomous role for advanced providers, with a larger patient panel can be quite unnerving and stressful. It can be disorientating even for experienced providers transitioning into a new health system. A well-structured onboarding can allow providers to deploy their training and experience at your organization effectively. Many onboarding programs have a clinical ramp-up period. The providers begin with a limited patient panel and gradually acclimatize into a full patient load. Many programs pair a senior hospitalist with the new hire during this period – a ‘buddy.’ Buddies are available to help new hires navigate the health system and familiarize them with the stakeholders. They help new hires by providing context to understand their new role and how they can contribute to the group’s success. In many instances, buddies help outline the unspoken rules of the group.
3. The social aspect – enculturation and networking: This is probably the most important of the three elements. It is quite common for new hires to feel like a stranger in a new land. A well-designed onboarding program provides new hires the space to forge relationships with each other and existing members of the hospital medicine team. Groups can do this in myriad ways – an informal welcome social, a meet and greet breakfast or lunch, in-person orientation when designing the administrative onboarding, and assignment of buddies or mentors during their clinical ramp-up period. It is all about providing a space to establish and nurture lasting relationships between the new hires and the group. When done well, this helps transform a group into a community. It also lays the groundwork to avoid stress and loneliness, some of the culprits that lead to physician burnout. It is through these interpersonal connections that new hires adapt to a hospital medicine group’s prevailing culture.