Nurse and Support Staff Shortage Drives Physician Turnover

Updated on November 6, 2022
Nurses looking at a clipboard in hospital ward

Data forecasts show physician shortages in many specialties continuing to climb for the foreseeable future, making employee retention, burnout management and wellbeing more important than ever. 

Providers and physicians aren’t the only healthcare workers experiencing immense burnout. In fact, Bloomberg recently reported nurse burnout had reached an all-time high, with a survey of 2,500 nurses finding that 64 percent of respondents are looking to leave the healthcare profession. While nurse burnout and turnover are obviously detrimental to quality patient care, the lack of nurses and other support staff also poses an even greater threat to the entire healthcare industry. My team at The Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAAPPR) and I have found that a lack of support and nursing staff is a top cause of physician and provider turnover, posing a major threat to the ongoing physician shortage. 

Nurses and clinical support staff are critical to system operations. They keep workflows moving, allow physicians to delegate routine tasks and are critical components to patient experience. When systems aren’t properly staffed with support staff, physicians and providers’ jobs become more difficult and their productivity is undermined. 

The correlation between nurse and support staff burnout and the overall well-being of the healthcare industry illustrates the current fragility of the healthcare industry and demonstrates how easily issues in one area can spread and disrupt the entire system. 

Recruiters and other Human Resources (HR) professionals have a critical role to play in solving this challenge. As HR professionals work to retain their providers and physicians, it’s crucial to expand their thinking and focus on retention efforts for the entire system, including nurses and support staff, to ultimately retain and engage full teams. 

Luckily, there are a variety of strategies and tactics teams can implement to support their staff retention during this challenging time. 

Stay Interviews 

A great way to retain the staff you have is to conduct “stay interviews” whenever possible, but especially when turnover is concerning. When used effectively, stay interviews can help open the dialogue between HR and the employee to ensure needs and concerns are being discussed before any challenges evolve and lead to a resignation. Stay interviews can also help identify what motivates different employees and what tactics can be most effective in encouraging them to stay with the organization, while also helping to identify the factors that may make them want to leave. 

Formal Retention Programs 

Another solution is for organizations to develop and implement a formal retention program based on their team’s needs. In a 2022 AAPPR quantitative survey on the reasons providers and physicians leave their organizations, fewer than a quarter of respondents said their organizations have a formal retention program in place. Formal programs help ensure retention is happening from the top down and is consistent across departments, rather than only focusing on a particular group of staff. Formal programs also help ensure retention is proactive, rather than reactive, and can help to reduce the number of “fires” HR staff are faced with. 

Workforce Planning 

In addition, today’s recruiters need to be operating as workforce planners, thinking about how physicians they’re hiring are going to be supported in their organization. Recruiters have a responsibility to listen to their current and prospective team members and advocate internally for the needs of their candidates if no one else is doing it.

Competition for talent including physicians, advanced practice providers (AAPs), nurses and clinical support staff has continued to dramatically rise. We cannot underestimate the impact each position has on the success and well-being of others. Ensuring an organization has the staff it needs at every level and the processes in place to support staff well-being is more important than ever for both recruitment and retention and to maintaining the quality of patient care. 

Carey Goryl, MSW, CAE is CEO for the Association for Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR).