THE OUTLOOK FOR HEALTH CARE IN 2023:

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December 21, 2022

Can hiring retired clinicians help hospitals with staffing shortages?

Daily Briefing

    As hospitals and health systems continue to struggle with staffing shortages, some have begun recruiting recently retired physicians and nurses to help fill in care gaps and mentor younger workers, Mari Devereaux writes for Modern Healthcare.

    Some health systems turn to retired clinicians to address staffing issues

    Amid persistent staffing issues, some health systems are now turning to social and professional networks to recruit local retired clinicians. Some have also employed national agencies to find "locum tenens" clinicians who are either close to retirement age or recently retired.

    For example, Bayhealth recently hired more than 200 retired nurses after the Delaware Healthcare Association sent out a letter requesting help. With this new influx of workers, hospital representatives say they have been able to start turning the corner on staffing problems.

    Although new technology has sometimes been a barrier for retired clinicians, Bayhealth offers retirees training courses and often pairs them with a nurse who handles charting and documentation in the EHR while they handle more hands-on care. The retired clinicians also have opportunities to share their years of experience, as well as give feedback on different areas of operations that could potentially be improved.

    "Each generation brings something to the forefront," said Angel Dewey, Bayhealth's director of education.  "My favorite thing about the baby boomers is they are workhorses. They are ride or die. The millennials and the Gen Z [workers] are super good with computers and all that technical stuff. So they play off of each other a little bit."

    In general, returning clinicians will work at a lower capacity than before, often at part-time hours. At Bayhealth, formerly retired nurses are usually scheduled four-to-six hour shifts instead of the typical 12-hour shift. These shorter hours are less physically taxing for older clinicians and can help reduce the potential risk of burnout.

    "The idea is not to force people back into the workforce, it's to give an option to people who perhaps haven't planned their retirement well enough, who are bored and who feel that they could benefit from giving back to medicine," said Derek Raghavan, president of Advocate Health's Levine Cancer Institute. "And it gives patients and younger doctors the benefit of vast expertise from really good doctors who love medicine and can continue."

    Although coming back to work after retirement isn't for everyone, it can be beneficial for clinicians who can find a role with a strong support system, according to Samuel Zimmern, a cardiologist at the Levine Cancer Institute.

    "I want to continue as long as I feel like I can do a good job for my patients," Zimmern said. "I'm just going to keep assuming they'll have me until I get to the point where I'm worried that I'm going to lose the skill and intellect needed to take care of these patients correctly."

    Is relying on retired clinicians the best solution?

    Although some health systems have seen benefits from hiring former clinicians, not everyone in the staffing industry believes that it is the most effective use of an organization's administrative and financial resources.

    "It's a strategy that many health systems have tried and it has failed for the most part, because retired nurses are not coming back," said Iman Abuzeid, CEO and co-founder of Incredible Health, a nurse hiring platform. "Hospitals need to focus on the generations that are in the workforce and are actively working."

    One potential barrier to hiring former clinicians is cost, since they are often paid higher rates than regular clinicians, Devereaux writes. According to Bill Heller, EVP of sales for CHG Healthcare, short-term locum tenens labor has seen a 10% to 20% increase in interest over the last few years, and these physicians earn an average of $32.45 more per hour than permanent physicians.

    Another potential hurdle for retired clinicians is licensing, especially if they have not practiced medicine for several years. Depending on how long they've been retired, where they live, and how much their skills have deteriorated, clinicians may have to show they are competent before they can provide care.

    Although some states, such as Arizona and Indiana, have allowed recently retired clinicians to gain temporary licenses during the pandemic, these are slated to expire soon. Another option is for clinicians to renew their credentials through recertification organizations, such as the Center for Personalized Education for Professionals (CPEP).

    Retraining may take between three and six months to complete, but individuals who have been out of practice for longer periods may take longer to complete the necessary classes. In addition, these classes can be expensive, costing between $3,000 and $10,000 a month, which participants have to pay for themselves.

    "Clinicians who have been out more than a couple of years probably will have a lot of learning to do in the areas of technology, [including] electronic medical records and patient portals, and communicating with patients," said Elizabeth Grace, CPEP's medical director. (Devereaux, Modern Healthcare, 12/20 [1]; Devereaux, Modern Healthcare, 12/20 [2])

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