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What young doctors are seeking, and how their priorities are changing

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Many are seeking work at larger health systems, and more are looking at temporary posts. But they are also putting a higher priority on work-life balance.

Younger doctors have different priorities and goals than early-career doctors did in the past.

Luke Woodyard, president at Weatherby Healthcare, says doctors beginning their careers are using a different calculus when deciding where they want to work. Yes, compensation matters, since young doctors are typically carrying a lot of debt after finishing medical school.

But Woodyard says young doctors are looking at other factors.

“Culture, work-life balance, taking control of your schedule, those things are a bigger priority now for providers that are coming out of residency, fellowship, than they were 10 years ago,” Woodyard tells Chief Healthcare Executive®.

Many young physicians are opting for work at larger health systems in hopes of getting more balance, or at least having more staffing. More young clinicians are also pursuing temporary staffing jobs than in the past in hopes of finding more flexibility, or at least more control of their schedule, he says.

(Watch part of our conversation with Luke Woodyard in this video. The story continues below.)

Seeking large systems

Weatherby Healthcare helps place doctors in temporary positions, also known in the industry as locum tenens. Weatherby highlighted some trends of young physicians in its recent career guide.

Most residents are looking to work for hospitals or healthcare organizations, with only 9% planning to work at a private practice, according to a survey by Weatherby.

“A lot of times, what we hear is that they want to be part of a larger group that provides more opportunity, whether it be growth or experiential,” Woodyard says. “A lot of times these larger health organizations can compensate at a higher level, have additional development or support programs that maybe smaller facilities or independent practices don't offer.”

With administrative duties contributing to physician burnout, some early-career clinicians are also looking to work at larger health systems which may offer more tools to reduce the bureaucratic burden.

“When you're working with a larger health system, they have support structures or infrastructure that can help take some of that off their plate,” Woodyard says.

Plus, larger systems have bigger staffing pools to cover shifts, and some offer pathways to gain a variety of experiences for young clinicians.

“It gives you different experiential growth as well, depending on the level of trauma center it is, depending on the level of experiences or acuity level cases they have, give them different exposure and create different levels of opportunities for growth,” Woodyard says.

Work-life balance

Nine of 10 (91%) residents surveyed said they placed a higher priority on their work-life balance and their workplace culture over compensation, according to Weatherby’s survey. Woodyard suggests those factors have gained importance since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I'd say it goes hand in hand with what we've seen throughout society recently over the last couple of years,” Woodyard says. “There is a desire for more work-life balance, a little bit more control of schedule, that's actually now ranking the highest amongst what providers are looking for coming out of residency or fellowship, is that happiness factor in life.”

To be sure, compensation matters, with the median medical school debt reaching $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Some young physicians are going to be focused on compensation by necessity, Woodyard acknowledges.

But even with a staggering debt load, some physicians are still going to want some degree of flexibility.

“Most providers that take a position are usually changing jobs within the first two years out of that residency or fellowship,” Woodyard says.

Health systems and hospitals looking to hire and keep young physicians are going to have to recognize that they aren’t just viewing a work-life balance as a wish list item.

“Some health systems and practices have to adjust their mindset that providers want something different these days than they wanted 10, 15 years ago,” Woodyard says.

Many young physicians are undoubtedly going to work some long days and unappealing hours, and Woodyard says they recognize they will have to work evening shifts to cover for others or help with high patient volume.

“They just want to make sure that when they do do that, they can also balance that out for sometimes what's important to them and their personal life, whether it be family or health,” Woodyard says.

Taking temporary posts

In the past, many of those taking temporary staffing jobs were older physicians, including some whose kids were out of the house and looking to see different places before retiring, Woodyard says.

Now, more young clinicians are taking temporary positions, he says.

Some younger clinicians are looking at temporary roles as more of a life choice, Woodyard says.

“They can travel and get different experiences,” he says. ‘They're not locked into a long-term agreement … if they should go to a facility that's not the right fit.”

Some young doctors are choosing temporary roles as a way of finding the type of place where they want to work.

“I do think it gives them the flexibility as well. Especially for some of the residents or people coming out of fellowship, they don't know what ‘good' looks like in some of these facilities,” Woodyard says.

“So they want to get in, they want to understand, what is the culture? What's the support system? Do I like the area? And it gives them a chance before they sign a long-term agreement or settle down in one location, to experience different work settings, building their skills, building their profile, as well as helping them identify what's going to work for them and their career,” he adds.

Some doctors who are later in their careers continue to choose temporary posts, but Woodyard says he sees more young physicians taking those positions in recent years to see different areas or try new things.

“I think there's more interest with the younger generation of physicians, given the lifestyle that locum tenens, or temporary staffing, offers,” he says.

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