HealthDecember 06, 2019

Recruiting millennial physicians: myths and realities

Healthcare recruiters are finding it more difficult to replace the prolific baby boomer generation with millennials, who prefer work-life balance, a collaborative environment, and technologically advanced work spaces.

Healthcare recruiters can be forgiven for viewing the future with trepidation. baby boomer physicians are retiring in droves, or are planning to retire soon. As of 2015, millennials (those aged 18 to 34 at that time) surpassed boomers (aged 51 to 69) as America's largest living generation. Before the tail end of this generation has even finished medical school, recruiters are faced with the daunting task of finding, hiring, and retaining the elusive "millennial physician."

Who is a millennial? Definition vary widely. Are they people born after 1980? Aged 40 or younger? Neither — or both? It has even been suggested that there may be a meaningful distinction to be drawn between "old" and "young" millennials.

Be wary of the "millennial myths"

In recent years, there has been a steady drumbeat of articles and anecdotes critical of this rising generation. After issuing a standard warning about the risks of generalizing about generations, these articles go on to malign millennials: They're lazy. They're entitled. They demand "participation trophies." The list goes on. (And yet this "lazy" generation managed to get themselves through medical school and residency training.)

"Entitled" or not, these rising professionals will set the direction for US healthcare for at least the next decade or two. And this new generation of physicians will be essential for your practice or hospital — not to mention the healthcare system at large — to survive and thrive. In this post, we'll try to separate some of the myths from the realities in the ongoing conversation about recruiting millennial physicians. We'll also suggest a few tips and strategies to help recruiters and employers attract, hire, and retain the next generation of physicians.

In keeping with our warning against generalizations, you may notice some contradictions in the millennial profile. Well, that's okay — these young professionals aren't necessarily interested in fitting neatly into boxes!

In this mixed picture, millennials are:

Technologically adept

Millennials are described as "digital natives." They've been connected to the Internet since childhood. Those in medical school now were among the first to use the Internet to do their homework, and the first to have smartphones as teenagers. They are:

  • Early adopters of technology. They're comfortable with keeping in touch and educating themselves online.
  • Accustomed to data-based decision-making. For younger millennials, the evidence-based medicine movement was well underway by the time they got to med school.
  • Comfortable with technology in medical practice. That includes electronic health records, which have been so disruptive for many boomer physicians. Today, many younger doctors may even carry and consult their mobile phones during patient visits. Nearly 90% of doctors under the age of 35 reported using their smartphone for professional purposes.1

During their job search, millennial recruits will look at job boards and other more traditional sources. But they'll also consult some untraditional resources, too, including your practice's social media channels and ratings sites. They'll expect your website to be clear and functional, keeping in mind the user interface and user experience when seeking information and getting responses to inquiries.

When it comes time for a site visit, millennial physicians will mark it as a strong positive to see a functional, high-tech office setting. They'll value a practice setting that keeps up with advances in technology and medical advances. They'll also likely expect to see an electronic health records system that is modern and up to speed.

Mobile and digital should play a key role in your recruitment efforts. Keep in mind that 95% of millennial physicians said they learn from medical journals (compared to 75% from their peers, 50% from medical education and CME, and just 28% from pharma reps). Doctors under the age of 35 are also much more likely to read digital reproductions of medical journals — they may rarely, if ever, touch a paper journal, according to a recent Kantar Media survey.1

In additional to online ads and job board postings, a properly selected email list is essential for reaching prospects and building awareness of open positions. Make sure it's an opt-in list — the last thing you want to do is spam them!

Social media can play an important role in generating a positive image of your practice or hospital. Millennial physicians tend to be wary of Facebook and Instagram due to privacy concerns, but they do use networking sites like LinkedIn, as well as professional sites such as Doximity and Sermo.

Competitive yet collaborative

While millennial physicians expect to do well in their careers, but they also expect to do good. They may place a high value on teamwork and collaboration, while believing strongly in the mission of improving patients' health and lives.

As physician Heidi Moawad writes in MD Magazine, "young physicians know that there is more than one way to succeed and that the success of one ultimately feeds the success of many." They place a high value on engagement with the practice, with their colleagues, and with patients. Millennial doctors have been described as "constantly collaborating" and "socially conscious." Boomer doctors were trained at a time when the mantra was, "Doctor Knows Best." Younger physicians, however, are more accustomed to and comfortable with collaborating and exchanging information with patients. They value a team approach, rather than adopting the position as eminent expert in a white coat.

Flexible yet ambitious

Millennials have high goals for their careers. In addition to the mission of providing excellent patient care, younger physicians want to influence the healthcare system for the better — to change the world, if you will. Millennial physicians may be open to or even expect to follow an alternative career path. For example, they might envision a consulting or research role in their future, rather than simply grinding through office visits throughout their careers.

Naturally, physicians entering practice today want to be paid well. And they need to be, especially since so many of them are carrying massive student loan debt (particularly specialists). But they may also be motivated by other factors, such as a stimulating and collegial work environment, opportunities for growth and development, and a team approach.

Mindful of work-life balance

This comes up time and time again in discussions about what millennial physicians want. They want to work hard, but they also want to have a life. They want to be able to disengage and spend time with family and friends. In a recent AMA survey, 92% of millennial physicians said they valued work-life balance, and 65% said they felt they had achieved it.

Work-life balance is becoming ever more important as the number of younger women physicians continues to increase. Women account for more than 40% of doctors under the age of 35, compared with less than 30% on average among all age groups.1 Women are still tasked as the primary caregiver to children, so they must delicately balance their career and familial role. The idea of work-life balance is sometimes disparaged by the older generation. Certainly, doctors who expect to work fewer hours and spend less time on call don't make life any easier for healthcare administrators or recruiters, who may need to find more doctors to fill open slots. But work-life balance can aid in long-term retention, with increased career satisfaction and reduced burnout.

Even the oldest millennial physicians in your recruiting pool completed their residency or attended medical school after the ACGME work hour change in 2003. They didn't work 100-hour shifts as a rite of passage, unlike the faculty who trained them.

The desire for work-life balance also goes hand-in-hand with the desire for a team-based work setting. Younger professionals want others to be available to cover for them when they're not on duty. A study conducted for the Association of American Medical Colleges suggested that doctors under 35 will work 13% fewer hours than the generation before them. That's five to eight fewer hours per week, or 20 to 32 fewer hours per month.

Kantar Media's data suggest that physicians under the age of 35 see an average of 67 patients per week, compared with nearly 100 patients on average among all age groups combined.1 Some recruiters even state, as a rule of thumb, it will take 1.5 younger doctors to replace one retiring physician. Younger physicians simply do not want to work the 60 to 80 hours per week that boomer doctors did. Consistent with the high value placed on flexibility and work-life balance, Millennial physicians are more likely to be receptive to working shifts than being on call. Development and retention should have equal emphasis in your recruitment efforts. Strategic benefits are an important part of the picture. Your benefits package might also be an effective part of your institution's pitch to encourage Boomer practitioners to consider delaying retirement.

Today's young doctors may receive multiple alluring job offers from recruiters. This poses a recruiting challenge, but there are steps you can take to maximize your chances of finding, hiring, and retaining millennial physicians who will be a good match for your practice or hospital:

  • Get their attention. Take advantage of the effective marketing avenues available to you for putting your message in front of young professionals.
  • Define your institution. What makes your practice or hospital stand out as a great place to build a career and provide excellent patient care?
  • Provide the compensation, incentives, and career opportunities that will make your position a good fit for millennial physicians in terms of their professional goals, work and family life, and their desire to provide excellent patient care.

Source: 1Kantar Media, Sources and Interactions Study, Medical Surgical Edition, 2017

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