Manage Your Practice

Solving the Physician Retirement Crisis

February 3, 2020

You’ll feel good about yourself today because, together, we’re going to solve the physician retirement crisis.

What, you haven’t heard about the crisis?

Well, obviously as the baby boomer generation is getting older, there are more and more physicians using the “R” word, “retirement.”

I can’t tell you how many physicians I’ve known who’ve retired only to die shortly thereafter. Just like other clients who sold their businesses, lost purpose, and then, well, dropped dead.

I know that many disagree with me. They think retirement is some sort of goal. They’ve fallen for the notion of the “golden years”, blah, blah, blah, and so they are letting their colleagues, and their medical groups, know that they are going to be retiring soon.

Now, certainly, I understand that if a physician is losing his or her skills, if they’re in a specialty that requires very small motor movements, and their hands are beginning to shake, well that’s another story.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the choice that otherwise healthy physicians make to retire. Why are they making that choice? Is it that they actually want to stop working, which is the assumption. Or is it actually something else? What underlies the “why”?

For many, it’s that they want to slow down. They don’t want the same level of intensity. But if that’s really the underlying “why,” perhaps the assumption made by their group, that someone is either in or out, should change.

Why would it change? Certainly, some medical groups function like accounting firms, where the older partners are pushed out because, if you look at the numbers, it makes sense to push them out . . . there’s more money left for the younger partners.

But is that really the case if, for a medical group, what’s walking out the door is the relationship with the hospital CEO, what’s walking out the door is the twenty years of experience as the group’s president? Is it really a savings to have that person leave? Or is it actually something that’s going to cost the group, and, therefore, the remaining members, money?

On paper, the first year or the second year after the “retiree” is gone, it certainly looks like you saved money because their compensation is no longer a drag on the group. “Hey! Extra money in the bank!” Or, just, “extra money for me!”

But is it really extra money in the bank if you lose key relationships that were putting all of the money in the bank or in your pocket?

The issue then becomes considering ways of repurposing people who would otherwise completely retire.

One client group found their solution: to share positions so that physicians who certainly had their skills, but desired to slow down, split a position. Two physicians sharing one role. Even three.

Other client groups found different solutions, some involving workload and some involving governance and leadership.

Yes, there are issues. Do those physicians retain their full voting rights? Do those physicians receive whatever other benefits the group gives its owners, for example extra year end distributions from a profit pool? But all of those issues can be solved.

What I want you to focus on from the group’s perspective – and, if you’re one of those physicians who’s about to retire, from your own perspective – is what retirement really means.

How can skills and relationships that would otherwise be lost, still be harnessed?

Just like those wealth management people say, the best time to plan for retirement is years in advance. Or today if you haven’t yet stated.

The same rules apply to the governance and group structure issues that can prevent the “retirement” of Dr. X from leading not simply to his death, but to the death of your group as well.

Comment or contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Mark F. Weiss

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