Preparing for the Inevitable Wave of Physician Retirements

Updated on August 26, 2023

Your Practice’s Success is Riding on Succession Planning

With the latest healthcare employment data projecting that nearly two of every five practicing physicians will be 65 years old — what is considered the traditional retirement age — in the next 10 years, the healthcare industry faces another crisis that could stretch the already thin workforce to its breaking point. Predictions of looming physician retirements, coupled with the fact that our population continues to grow and age, could have detrimental effects on our healthcare system and contribute to the worsening physician shortage.

The good news is that retirement means different things to different physicians and not all intend to fully retire at 65. We are seeing more physicians continue working in a part-time role or as locums providers. But now it’s more critical than ever to uncover physicians’ intentions earlier and explore new ways to incorporate them into your medical staffing plans.

Physician Retirements Fuel Provider Shortage

In the last few years, Baby Boomers have started to reach retirement age and we are beginning to feel the ramifications. While this is a challenge that spans across industries, healthcare is particularly vulnerable because of the ongoing pandemic and the fact that burnout is a perpetual problem for physicians of all ages.

What’s more, recent studies have found that 30% of physicians retire between the ages of 60 and 65, and 12% retire before the age of 60. All of this is exacerbating the physician shortage and creating an immediate need for the industry to respond with a proactive approach before it’s too late. 

Succession Planning is the Solution

While there is no way to know for sure who will retire and when, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of medical practices to ensure they are fully staffed even if a provider leaves. This is where a succession plan comes into play. Succession plans are an effective tactic for practice leaders to develop a comprehensive blueprint that details responsibilities, tracks emerging talent and helps prepare practices for an unexpected departure of a key medical provider. Having these processes in place lessens the burden felt throughout the practice and safeguards the continuity of patient care.

Unfortunately, though, many practices struggle with prioritizing physician succession planning and are forced to start from scratch when a physician announces their retirement. According to our newest survey due to be released the week of March 20, 2023, even though healthcare administrators are concerned about rising physician turnover only one in four have formal, written physician succession plans in place to address the issue. This is a missed opportunity that can create shockwaves in a medical practice and a situation that can easily be avoided with succession planning strategies.   

Open-Lines of Communication Are Key 

Forward-thinking practices can avoid reactive responses to physician retirements by opening the lines of communication preemptively. While every practice is different, they share one thing in common — physicians are the lifeblood of medical practices and without them, other providers will be stretched thin and this could end up affecting the quality of care patients receive as well as the practice’s bottom line.

As an experienced physician liaison and practice management recruiter, I can’t stress the importance of engaging in tough retirement conversations with providers early and often. Initiating retirement conversations before a physician is 55 will help you gauge what motivates them and understand if they are thinking about retiring as well as the timeline they are considering. Improving communication in this area is a critical first step and perhaps the easiest for practice managers to implement. 

Additionally, new research offers insights on how administrators can better position practices to reduce vacancies. I’ll be sharing this hot-off-the-press data and other physician retirement findings at MGMA’s Medical Practice Excellence: Financial and Operations Conference in March.

Want a sneak peek of my session? You can expect to learn what the new data on retirement reveals about why physicians want to retire and how they want to make the transition. I’ll also share information that empowers administrators to address the “why” and accommodate the “how” with the goal of keeping physicians in the workforce for as long as possible. 

Tara Osseck – Regional Vice President of Recruiting at Jackson Physician Search.
Tara Osseck

With more than 15 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Tara Osseck specializes in matching healthcare organizations with physicians who are a strong fit for the role and the culture. Her healthcare career began as a physician liaison and quickly expanded to include physician recruitment, strategic planning, and business development. Working for various hospitals throughout Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri, Osseck recruits and leads a team of recruiters from the firm’s St. Louis office. She earned a bachelor's degree from Truman State University and a master's degree in health care administration and management from The University of Memphis.