Physician burnout and discontent are high—and they have been for a while. For the past 10 years between 44% to 51% of physicians have intended to leave their job. In 2021, this number reached new heights at 54%, even though almost half of the physician workforce has considered a major career change, median turnover has remained steady at 7%. (We have lots to say about these trends and physician turnover).
We think this historic trend could finally change. While physician discontent has always existed, the employment landscape has shifted in ways that could finally allow physicians to act on these longstanding feelings.
We're poised to see more physician movement between employers and practice settings—driven by three market dynamics.
The 3 market forces driving physician movement
1. There are more physician employment options
While demand for physicians continues to remain strong, the more notable shift is in the number of practice opportunities available to them. No longer are physicians faced with the binary choice of either being a hospital employee or private practice shareholder.
Instead, physicians have more practice options to choose from than ever before including working for aggregators, national chains, and superpractices. Superpractices–regional and national organizations that primarily employ doctors and offer varying degrees of autonomy vs. integration—allow physicians to make tradeoffs that are right for them.
Physicians who are unhappy in their current role now have real opportunities to seek out other employment options. To date, our physician workforce has been discontented but loyal. This will likely change with the emergence of new practice models.
2. Employers offer differentiated value propositions
Because of the abundance of options, physicians can now choose employers who most closely align with their values. These might include autonomy, stability, reliable integration, or flexibility. Many employers offer many, if not all of these attributes, but autonomy is what differentiates employer value propositions from one another—all else being equal.
According to 2022 Advisory Board clinician survey data, autonomy is the number one attribute that physicians value in their current role. However, different employers offer different types of autonomy and to varying degrees. Clinical autonomy allows physicians to make the right care decisions for their patients, schedule autonomy gives physicians more flexibility in when they work, and strategic autonomy grants physicians power to help shape their practice's future direction.
Evidence shows that physicians are prioritizing flexibility, autonomy, and better support. As practice options expand, physicians can pick from more differentiated value propositions than what has traditionally been offered—making the prospect of changing employers both possible and more attractive.
3. Loyalty isn't guaranteed
Not only are there more practice options and attractive value propositions, but the historical conditions for loyalty no longer exist. In the past, employers assumed that employment guaranteed physician loyalty, but there are two important shifts upending this trend:
- Like other young workers, physicians entering the workforce after residency are less likely to hang their hats with a single employer. In addition to the structural shifts described earlier, we could see this generational change continue to accelerate practice movement.
- While many physicians remain employed, we've also seen a rise in partnership models and non-W-2 relationships. These looser affiliations mean that doctors aren't tied to a single employer.
All things considered, employers shouldn't take historical physician loyalty for granted anymore.
Physicians are moving and that's not likely going to change anytime soon. It's important to stay on top of current dynamics that contribute to this movement so you can understand what physicians want and continue to appeal to them amidst the current employment landscape.
While it hasn't always been the case, physicians have the upper hand and are going to choose what's best for them. Ensuring that you appeal to their values will help you compete in the race for physician talent and will result in more fruitful employee-employer relationships.