Why Hiring Older Physicians is a Good Idea

surgeons-link-heroAs a healthcare administrator or medical group manager, like everybody else, you need several physicians and you need them now!  When you start the process with your medical staff, the first thing you do is marshal support for the effort and work to build a consensus and to get “buy-in” from all the key players and then begin the search effort. As a hired-gun recruiter for over thirty years, I have heard it all before from physicians in medical staff leadership roles saying things like, “We would like one of the top residents from either of these two programs” or “We prefer someone from a university-based program.” What they fail to take into account is that residents and fellows typically receive over 100 contacts about jobs during the course of their residency, interview for and consider multiple opportunities and receive (on average) eight bona fide offers.  Nonetheless, you feel like you have an “A” opportunity and don’t see much difficulty in landing that “blue-chip” recruit from the preferred programs targeted. But don’t forget- your odds are 1 in 8.  It’s a 12-24 month process, so if you don’t have a signed agreement by December or January with the resident or fellow of your choice, it will be at least another 18 months or so before you have the new to practice physician on board. Remember, you need physicians now, so what are your options?

Many healthcare administrators don’t consider hiring older physicians – who have more experience (and less ramp-up time) than that of a resident coming right out of training that everyone wants.

Here are 8 reasons why you should consider bringing in an older physician to fill the need:

  1. Supply – Of the nearly 1,000,000 physicians practicing in the US, about 40% are age 55 or over. If you happen to need a pulmonologist—76% are age 55 or older. Most physicians really don’t want to completely retire, so there is an opportunity to bring someone on board for 5-10 years depending upon when you catch them.
  2. Lead Time – Instead of having to wait for 12-24 months, you can literally have a well-qualified physician on board and seeing patients within 30 days.
  3. Work Ethic – Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are known for their work ethic and long-term commitment to a single organization. They’ve been willing to trade work-life balance for professional success, recognition and financial security. Due to work/life balance requirements of younger physicians, it has been reported that it may take up to 1.5 or 2 FTE younger physicians to replace one older physician.  By hiring a baby boomer and taking good care of them while they’re with your organization, they’re likely to reciprocate. 
  4. Ramp Up TimeOnce you get through the milieu of credentialing, orientation and EMR training, a more experienced physician can begin seeing more patients with confidence. They are coming to you with a wealth of knowledge gained from seeing thousands of patients with a wide variety of conditions and can hit the ground running.
  5. Your PatientsExperience Matters. Many individuals prefer seeing an older physician, especially if it is more a serious condition. They want to see a physician who has treated many patients with their illness before or who has performed the surgery many times over, yet they don’t want a physician who is not current with the latest treatments and technology.
  6. FlexibilityOlder physicians will work on contract and don’t necessarily have to be employed with a specified number of work hours delineated in a workweek or a 90-day out clause by either party.  Back to number 3 above, outside interests and being present for children’s activities are less of a concern for the baby boomer physicians, so they are more likely to work when you need them. They typically prioritize work above other interests.
  7. Mentoring/Knowledge SharingMany older physicians come from leadership roles in private practices or academic institutions and can serve as a valuable resource for younger, less experienced physicians. They may even be able to help you recruit that “blue-chip” resident or fellow. They’re on contract, so there are likely no turf battles and there is no risk of a new physician coming on-board diluting his or her practice.
  8. Clinical Competence/Cognitive FunctioningIn a study comparing cognitive functioning of surgeons age 60 and older with younger surgeons, 78% of practicing surgeons aged 60-64 performed within the range of younger surgeons on computerized cognitive tasks measuring visual sustained attention, reaction time and visual learning and memory. Researchers encourage patients not to focus on age when selecting a surgeon. Instead, other characteristics of the physician and practice setting, such as operative volume, are likely better predictors of patient outcome than surgeon age.

So how do you find these mid-career or baby boomer physicians and what is the best way to get them seeing patients in your hospital or practice quickly?

The Physicians Foundation surveyed some 20,000 physicians (average age 49 years)  and 9% of them indicated they planned to work locum tenens in the next 1-3 years. Most hospital in-house physician recruitment teams tend to be focused on landing that “blue-chip” recruit (residents and fellows) and they don’t have very good access to mid-career physician candidates. Therefore, putting your needs out to a few locum tenens agencies and seeing who they offer up is probably not a bad idea. Be sure they don’t take your willingness to consider older physicians too literally. Someone in their late 70s who hasn’t done much work in the last few years and can’t offer up a case log( if you’re in need of a surgeon or specialist who does procedures), may not be a good fit.

If you’d like to know more about physicians available who are licensed in your state, please fill out the form below.

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