The number-one most talked about blog post of 2016, according to Medical Economics, was about how more young doctors are jumping ship to non-clinical roles. “[A]n increasing proportion of the roughly 100,000 doctors in medical school today do not intend to treat patients as their primary career – or at all,” wrote Ryan Gamlin, a former health care management consultant and current medical student at the University of Cincinnati.

 This is concerning to many, given the well-documented physician shortage we’re facing in the U.S. By 2025, the country will require as many as 35,600 more primary care doctors, and as many as 94,700 physicians overall, to meet the increasing demand of a growing and aging population, according to data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges earlier this year.

By 2025, the U.S. will face a shortage of as many as 94,700 doctors.

Where are these young doctors going? What is driving them away from patient care and towards other career choices? And what can practices do to recruit and retain them?

‘Drop-out docs’ lured away by technology

In an article titled, “Siren Song Of Tech Lures New Doctors Away From Medicine,” NPR examined the issue, describing “a push and a pull motivating young doctors to seek opportunities in technology,” particularly in places like California’s Bay Area, where there is a heavy concentration of tech entrepreneurs. Medical students who are “exposed to entrepreneurial thinking during their education” may find themselves considering opportunities outside of medical practice.

“We’ve seen that many of these Bay Area-based medical students are drawn to startup opportunities,” Jeff Tangney, CEO of Doximity, told NPR. “It used to be biotech, and now it’s more often digital health.”

Many of these would-be physicians – some of whom call themselves “drop-out docs” — are disillusioned by their experiences in medical school and residency. Several told NPR they had spent very little time actually treating patients, and felt that patients were too often kept out of the loop.

So-called ‘drop-out docs’ are increasingly leaving medicine and being drawn to digital health startups instead.

One of those is Shaundra Eichstadt, a graduate of Stanford Medical School. “I never thought I would leave medicine,” she said in the article, “[but] I realized that the system isn’t designed for doctors to make the real change you would like to for the patient.” She decided that she could make a bigger impact elsewhere. She now works as the medical director at Grand Rounds Health, a San Francisco-based startup that helps patients access second opinions from top medical experts online.

How practices can attract Millennials, retain all doctors

As we’ve discussed in a previous post, Millennial doctors are not your father’s or your grandfather’s physician; they’re a new breed. Unlike previous generations, Millennials want variety and flexibility in their work, and value making an impact higher than financial compensation.

For more on this topic, see How Millennial Doctors Will Shape the Future of Health Care.

“Employers need to understand Millennials so they can tap into what this generation has to offer,” physician recruiter Dave Dertien told PracticeMatch, a physician staffing data and services company. Specifically, he advises practices to encourage mentorship, allow work flexibility, and tap into their tech skills.

“Millennial physicians are focused on providing medical care more effectively through technology and information sharing,” he said. So practices looking to recruit Millennials should make sure their technology is up to speed and be receptive to ideas from the younger generation on how to use it.

Because work-life balance and avoiding burnout are extremely important to Millennials, leveraging technology, like our interactive patient education software, Rendia, to save time and streamline your practice will be well worth the effort and investment.

In fact, it’s good business for any health care employer to consider why doctors at any stage of their career may abandon patient care, and what could be done about it. The Physicians Foundation 2016 Physician Survey revealed that 48 percent of surveyed physicians plan to cut back on hours, retire, take a nonclinical job, switch to “concierge” medicine, or take other steps that will further limit patient access – an increase from those who answered similarly in the 2014 survey. This may be due to the fact that 80 percent of responding physicians reported being overextended or at capacity, with no time to see additional patients.

To reduce the burden on doctors and help alleviate potential shortages, many health systems and larger practices are taking steps such as hiring more non-physician practitioners, reports Medical Economics.

Why we need doctors in both clinical and nonclinical roles

It’s also worth noting that it’s not always an either/or choice for doctors choosing clinical and nonclinical roles. One doctor interviewed in the NPR article, Connie Chen, still practices medicine part-time, even though the bulk of her time is spend on an app she co-founded which connects people who have chronic diseases with virtual health coaches.

“My experience is that most who have administrative or other nonclinical roles continue—for part of their time—to provide direct patient care,” wrote John Nelson, M.D., in an article for The Hospitalist. Of those who do leave clinical work behind altogether, some of them are very prominent people in the field, such as the top physician at The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the current U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, M.D., he notes.

“We need talented people in both roles [clinical and nonclinical], but we also need to always be looking for ways to minimize the numbers of doctors who feel the need to flee a clinical career,” wrote Nelson.

Doctors choosing nonclinical careers is not all bad news for health care, of course. As Gamlin said in Medical Economics, “I am heartened and made optimistic by the increasing numbers of doctors who choose to treat the health care system as a whole, even if it means not treating patients directly.”

Start attracting young talent to your medical practice with advanced technology. Visit our website today to learn how Rendia blends stunning clinical art with interactive technology to improve patient outcomes.

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