Physician Turnover: The High Costs & What Hospitals Can Do

Physician turnover has become a worrisome trend for hospitals and healthcare systems, with every region of the country affected by rising rates of attrition over the last decade.

In this article, we take a look at physician turnover statistics to pinpoint what’s driving the exodus of doctors from the profession, examine the effects of turnover on both patient care and healthcare organizations’ bottom line, and provide a solution to help you fill openings faster. 

 The Cost of Physician Turnover & Burnout

In the post-pandemic world, virtually every industry is struggling with higher-than-average workforce turnover rates that are taking a toll on productivity and morale. But in healthcare, turnover is literally a matter of life-and-death—one that can ultimately hurt the continuity and quality of patient care and have very serious implications on patient outcomes. 

Hospitals and healthcare systems have always grappled with physician turnover, but over the last decade, the cost of physician turnover has begun to reach crisis levels. A report published this July by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the annual rate of physician turnover increased 43 percent between 2010 and 2018, with the highest rates among younger physicians, physicians in rural areas, and hospitalists.

Even before the pandemic, physician burnout carried a high price tag: a 2019 study attributed $4.6 billion in annual costs to physician turnover and reduced work hours caused by burnout. On an individual basis, the study estimated the cost for organizations at about $7,600 per physician each year.

Physician Turnover Is Only Getting Worse

A quick look at physician turnover statistics clearly illustrates that what was a costly issue before the pandemic has become even worse over the last three years. In the midst of the pandemic, 71,000 physicians exited the healthcare industry, and in 2021, more than 73% of physicians reported feeling overworked and 50% were considering a career change because of it.

And the industry still hasn’t caught up with a spike in retirements at the beginning of the pandemic, when 1% of the overall physician workforce retired earlier than expected.

But while burnout is a major driver of turnover, it isn’t the only reason. In an October 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, respondents cited complex reasons, including the healthcare delivery landscape, leadership and local practice culture, and personal considerations, that fed into their decision to leave their practice.

The High Costs of Physician Turnover for Hospitals & Health Systems

Skyrocketing rates of turnover have left hospitals and health systems struggling to fill the gap. Studies have shown that everyone benefits from continuity of care: there are better outcomes for patients, as well as more accurate diagnoses, fewer emergency department visits, fewer hospital admissions, and lower costs, while doctors report a higher level of satisfaction with their work.

But while disruption to patient care and doctor satisfaction is a very real concern, there are also very real hard financial costs of physician turnover. An American Medical Association-backed study found that turnover among primary care physicians costs payers $979 million annually and the resignation of a family medicine physician who generates $1.5 million in revenue for the hospital could mean a loss of $130,000 per month until the vacancy is filled.

And of course, the time to fill a vacancy can vary wildly depending on the specialty. Becker’s Hospital CFO Report states that it takes an average of 4.3 months to fill an open family medicine role, and five to 10 months to fill a specialist role.

All told, the financial implications of losing skilled physicians include:

  • Costs for hiring temporary staff or locum tenens to fill in as you seek a full-time replacement
  • Lost revenue due to reduced patient appointments
  • Recruitment and onboarding expenses, which can add up quickly according to estimates from Becker’s Hospital CFO Report:
    • Average interviewing expenses of $30,000 per candidate
    • $10,000-$15,000 for relocation packages
    • Signing bonuses that start at $20,000 and go as high as $250,000
    • $75,000 to $99,000 in physician student loan repayment
  • Temporary decreases in productivity, as new hires train and ramp up to peak efficiency

What CEOs, CMOs & Physician Recruiters Can Do About Physician Turnover

Addressing physician burnout — such as improving workflow distribution across team members and ensuring adequate staffing — is an important first step in staunching the high rates of attrition. However, healthcare organizations also need to build a robust talent pipeline to combat the all-too-real costs of physician turnover.

Proactively cultivating a stream of qualified and well-trained physicians means your organization will be ready to address issues like physician shortages and succession planning. It’s an approach that’s equal parts pragmatic and forward-thinking, helping you fill the short-term hiring needs of today while making sure you’re able to act quickly to fill positions in the future.

“A robust pipeline is the cornerstone of an effective physician recruitment strategy,” explains Anthony Gentile, Managing Partner, Talent Engagement at Adfire Health. “It’s a strategic investment that helps ensure a continuous flow of top talent so you can quickly fill vacancies as they arise.”

Having a pipeline in place is essential for many reasons. “An established talent pool saves time for your Talent Acquisition teams and eliminates the perennial issue of understaffing,” Gentile says. “This helps prevent burnout and additional turnover for your existing staff, breaking the cycle of turnover in your organization.” 

Adfire Health has an industry-leading database of healthcare providers, with comprehensive data points on more than 1.1 million physicians across 120 different specialties—from anesthesiologists to urologists.

When you need to fill open positions and build a talent pipeline, our proprietary solutions provide targeted opportunities to engage the skilled clinicians you need to reach and generate awareness of your hospital or healthcare system with messaging that showcases your brand as an employer of choice.

We’ve got the expertise to help you establish and nurture connections with passive candidates through a variety of channels—email, social, and digital ads—and re-engage those who show interest with personalized retargeting campaigns.

Ready to get started? Explore how Adfire Health’s solutions can help you build a physician pipeline today.

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