Open Accessibility Menu

7 Success Factors for Building an Effective Physician Onboarding Team

7 Success Factors for Building an Effective Physician Onboarding Team

Effective physician onboarding and new physician navigation is the foundation on which long-term strategic physician integration and retention goals are achieved.

When I hear the word “onboarding”, I instantly think locomotive!  For me, locomotives symbolize strength and performance. And in today’s fast-paced and high-tech medical practice environment, I think “high-speed engine.”  That’s exactly how to describe a successful onboarding process: efficient, rapid – but on track with the right people at the controls.  The locomotive is what we should visualize when building, or rebuilding, a result-oriented Physician Onboarding & New Physician Navigation Program for long-term retention.  If a locomotive seems too aggressive, hang on. I think I’ll change your mind.

We all know, but too often forget; physician retention starts WAY before and goes WAY beyond recruitment.  Let me appeal to your competitive side.  Implementing an effective Physician Onboarding Program will provide your organization with an enormous competitive advantage. Are you “on-board” yet?

7 Success Factors for Building an Effective Physician Onboarding Team:

1. Synergy

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off).  I completely buy in to his empirical research, only I’m going to change his bus metaphor to a locomotive.  I mean, really!  We’re stamping out disease and suffering here — that’s locomotive level!   All kidding aside, we must have the right people onboard this team if we’re planning to hit strategic goals from our physician recruitment, relations, and retention efforts.

When building an onboarding team, don’t just look for the same type of people.  It takes different people, sometimes with opposing views (that may drive us nutty some days), working toward a common goal that ultimately produces the best results.
Synergy is one of my favorite words. I’ve witnessed how synergy is the secret ingredient that leads to AMAZING, over-the-top results.  Size does NOT matter. Synergy most definitely matters!  Synergy describes the combined effect of two or more people, being greater than the sum of the individual effect, or simply put… five people produce the results of ten or more.

Some members of the onboarding team may only serve temporarily based on their relevance or association to a particular search or candidate*. Big warning:  Make certain the composition of the onboarding team is representative of all key stakeholders in any part of the recruitment, relations, and retention process.

I recently witnessed the result of the recruitment of a highly paid, key-strategic specialist, where the key Department Director was never involved in the recruitment loop.  As you might imagine, they experienced a very unsuccessful retention rate.
Most onboarding teams include the following departments collectively working across the entire continuum of recruitment, relations, and retention:

  • Physician Recruitment
  • Physician Relations/Liaison/Sales
  • Practice Management
  • Marketing
  • C-Suite /Board
  • Medical Staff Coordinator
  • Key Service Lines Directors or Managers
  • IT/Finance/Legal
  • Community Leaders / Champions
  • Physician Leadership/Mentorship Program
  • Scribe: to keep timeline – general meeting minutes – helpful in keeping everyone on schedule and accountable.

Each one of these members may have cohorts, subsets, and/or staff to support their areas. For example, physician recruitment would always work with legal counsel.

2. Strength

The key to successful long-term results starts with a strong onboarding team.  An effective team must have a strong facilitator who is capable of leading and handling the responsibility of reporting the results to senior leadership, preferably the CEO or COO.  The strength of the team is ultimately dependent on full commitment and each member is held accountable for his or her role.  It’s best (on several accounts) if a clerical person is assigned to record and maintain a written flow chart of the candidate’s pre and post recruitment.

Strength and stripes (aka Senior Leadership) often go hand-in-hand, but high-level stripes are certainly not required if your culture is about empowerment and collaboration!  Based on the organizational culture, the team may or may not need someone representing stripes.  I’d like to think that results will quickly speak for themselves so that the executive is not necessary but welcomed if his or her presence yields higher results.

Ultimately, the goal of onboarding is to make things happen quickly and efficiently, so if stripes are necessary to accomplish timely results, please get them onboard to help build the steam!

3. Steam

What does steam have to do with onboarding?  We use steam metaphorically to emphasize the importance of consistently pushing ourselves to make the “extra” effort in each step of the process if we really want to see the over-the-top results and stand out from the crowd.
In the book 2120 – The Extra Degree, Sam Parker describes the “one degree” principle.  Raising the temperature of water by just one extra degree means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a locomotive. Are we seeing the theme here?

4. Speed – Sense of Urgency

We all know hospitals have a reputation for moving slowly!  The “slow no”, the “slow go”.  The scariest part is how fast we become acclimated and stop noticing our own slowness!  In our business, we don’t often get a second chance.  We’re not in the do-over business.  Another reason why effective onboarding is so crucial.

It is speed more often than not that gives us that competitive edge. There isn’t time or space for the “let’s table or talk about that at our next X, Y, Z committee meeting” mentality on a highly performing onboarding team. It’s now or never.

For my nay saying friends – please don’t glean from this that “speed” implies rushing into decisions that often lead to disaster.  Rather, I am suggesting we put this onboarding system and structure in place where a thoughtful team of key stakeholders and decision makers are responsible for keeping the process moving full speed ahead to achieve long-term recruitment and retention success.

5. Simplify the Goal

While onboarding is not rocket science, we do have a tendency to overlook the strategic importance of an organized systematic and structured approach.  Unfortunately, this often leads to wasting valuable resources and the loss of great physicians before and after they’re recruited!

Bottom line, it’s simple only in that physician onboarding is about the unwavering commitment to an organized structure and systematic approach to recruiting and retaining the best of the best practitioners.

6. Satisfaction vs. Loyalty

Ultimately, satisfaction is measured by loyalty!  You have to recruit and retain physicians before you can measure their loyalty – follow my tracks here? Satisfaction doesn’t guarantee retention, but perhaps loyalty will.

So, I would start by creating a measurement tool for the last few newly recruited physicians and their families in order to fully understand their onboarding experience from their perceptive.  If you don’t have a structured onboarding process, that feedback is extremely essential to helping you create one.  Without exception, there is a goldmine of improvement opportunities right in our own backyard.

A hospital CEO put it in vivid context: “Poor retention is the same as catching a fish and letting it flop on the dock until it lands back in the water!”  What’s not so funny is it actually happens every day to many organizations.

7. Success & Shifting Paradigms

If Retention = Success, then why do so many organizations measure success based on recruitment?  Perhaps they are STUCK in the old paradigm.  Onboarding is so important today because the new paradigm for long-term success is recruiting TO retain!  They are no longer mutually exclusive.

Every year it gets harder and harder to recruit and retain top-notch physicians.  As difficult as it is, the organizations that adopt the Recruit-to-Retain paradigm established by an effective Physician Onboarding Program will be the organizations that not only are envied by those who couldn’t make the shift, but who continue to thrive even during turbulent economic times.

Joel Barker, Futurist and Author of the book Paradigms – The Business of Discovery the Future, predicted: “When a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero.  Your past successes mean nothing.”  If that doesn’t persuade you, let me end with a quote from one of my favorite doctors — Dr. Seuss. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose!”

Learn more about how the essential elements of an onboarding program will result in rapid ramp-up to productivity and long-term retention.

Additional resources:

View our webinar: Get Physician Onboarding Right: Accelerate Productivity, Improve Retention and Drive Revenue

Read our Case Study: Best-In-Class Onboarding Sparks Improved Retention and Performance.

For help launching an effective Onboarding or Physician Relations & Retention Program, contact Tammy Tiller-Hewitt @