Research and News

VITAL WorkLife and Cejka Search Physician Engagement Survey

A new VITAL WorkLife and Cejka Search survey on physician engagement confirms that not only is engagement very important to physicians, it also is a key driver of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs and their organizations, and it clearly influences their decisions to accept or leave a job. The survey also reveals sizable gaps between what is important to physicians to feel engaged and what they perceive they are experiencing in their current practices.

“Physician engagement has become increasingly urgent for healthcare organizations, yet it is a term that is too broad to be meaningful,” said Mitchell Best, VITAL WorkLife CEO. “The survey’s objective was to gain a better understanding of and quantify what physician engagement really means to physicians, what they are looking for and actually experiencing, and where there are gaps. The survey results substantiate areas where healthcare organizations can and must take action to address physician engagement issues in order increase job satisfaction, improve retention and recruitment, and compete with leading healthcare organizations.”

A companion study of healthcare administrators found that they essentially understand which specific elements are important to physicians’ feelings of engagement, but they tend to overstate how well their organizations provide what physicians want.

“When physicians do not feel engaged, they may leave their jobs or reject employment opportunities with organizations that don’t meet their expectations for engagement,” explained Lori Schutte, MBA, Cejka Search President. “The resulting turnover and prolonged vacancies are key cost drivers that can run as high as $100,000 per month when all costs and lost revenue are considered.”

What is Important to Physicians?

Focusing on 15 elements of engagement that VITAL WorkLife and Cejka Search identified through research and their practice experience to be most meaningful to physicians, and that healthcare organizations can work to control, the survey examines:

  • How important the different elements are to making physicians feel engaged
  • The degree to which physicians feel their current practices embody or deliver upon those elements
  • Physicians’ sense of engagement with their work and their organization, how it has changed over time, and how it impacts their job satisfaction
  • The degree to which engagement has driven physicians’ decisions around joining an organization or leaving it

Physicians generally felt that all 15 of the elements of engagement were important, scoring them in the top quartile. The top-ranked elements to physicians were:

  • Respect for my competency and skills
  • Feeling that my opinions and ideas are valued
  • Good relationships with my physician colleagues
  • Good work/life balance
  • A voice in how my time is structured and used

However, they gave universally lower marks for how well they felt these elements were true of their current practices. The largest gaps were seen with these elements:

  • Feeling that my opinions and ideas are valued
  • A voice in clinical operations and processes
  • A voice in how my time is structured and used
  • Fair compensation for my work
  • Good work/life balance

Overall, the largest gaps were between the ideal—a score of 10 based on a 10-point Likert scale—and physicians’ feelings around what their organizations actually provide. These varied from 2.0 to 4.2 points, indicating considerable room for improvement for healthcare organizations to provide what physicians need to feel more engaged.

Engaged With Their Work, but Not With Their Organizations

Nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent) of respondents scored in the high range (8-10) regarding their feelings of engagement with their work, but less than half (41.5 percent) scored similarly for their sense of engagement with their organization.

Dr. Daniel J. Whitlock, MBA, a VITAL WorkLife consulting physician, notes, “Many physicians gain a sense of satisfaction from their individual encounters with patients and colleagues despite what the organization provides—or doesn’t provide—in other areas. It’s possible for physicians to feel meaning and engagement without having a particular affection for the system. Instead of grousing about physicians, administrators need to think creatively about how to engage these very physicians. Otherwise, it is an opportunity wasted at a time when the physician shortage is looming.”

One survey respondent commented: “Many hospital administrators seem to think they can demand engagement. In my experience it is a function of mutual respect, good communication and a mission that at its heart supports good patient care. No substitutes exist.”

The survey showed that physicians’ feelings of engagement were not increasing at an appreciable rate compared to three years previously, with a lukewarm average score of 6.1 showing that the scale was barely tipping toward more engagement.

The survey results also showed that feelings of engagement—or a lack thereof—was a significant factor in well over half of physicians’ decisions around accepting a practice opportunity or leaving an existing practice.

Dr. Robert M. Stark, a consulting physician for VITAL WorkLife, commented, “Administrators need to understand that engagement is won, not demanded. And, physician leaders need to join with administrators to create an attractive practice environment for physicians.”

About the Survey

The surveys were conducted in September 2013 using confidential online survey instruments. The nationwide, multi-specialty survey sample of 1,666 physicians represented a 99 percent confidence level with a +/- 3 percent margin of error against the national active physician population.

Please contact us for more information on how PWS can help, or to learn more about the survey. For more information on effective physician recruitment and retention strategies, please contact Cejka Search. Media inquiries are welcome; click here to contact us.