In a 2020 report, the Texas Health and Human Services Administration identified North Texas as one of the areas with the greatest shortage of pediatricians.
While the report focuses on general pediatrics, in my 30 years of executive search experience placing pediatric physician leaders and subspecialists, the current talent shortages are creating the biggest strain I’ve ever seen on our child health organizations and their physician leaders.
It’s another new normal we’re adapting to in healthcare, and while there are strategies at play to address shortages, they are years in the making. To effectively address the current critical shortages, children’s hospitals and practice plans have to shift focus to the compensation and operational initiatives that support pediatric physician leaders struggling with staffing and retention. Today, they’re not only facing the elevated burnout rates of Baby Boomers, but they also have to balance quality-of-life expectations of the next generation.
While being a physician leader is challenging for even the most seasoned of pediatricians, we’re seeing more and more young pediatricians placed in chief, chair, and medical director roles who don’t have the appropriate years of experience and wisdom. Today’s healthy leadership cultures must first appreciate the need for leadership development and be prepared to provide coaching and mentorship from trained professionals and other senior pediatricians who have been there.
Throughout my experience working with physicians of all ages, I’ve seen how important it is to harness the experiences of one generation of leader and meaningfully pass it on to the next. By building these healthy cultures and ensuring no leader feels isolated in their role, we are seeing real improvements in leader mental health, clinical quality, academic outcomes and retention.
Here are four things child health organizations must pursue:
- Commit to establishing healthy cultures that promote mental health and connect young physicians with mentors to foster work-life balance and professional success.
- Create mentor networks comprised of past organizational and subspecialty physician leaders willing to share their years of wisdom and experience.
- Provide executive coaching and establish formal leadership development programs with the required participation of all new leaders.
- Engage national thought leaders for external programmatic reviews and assessments on physician wellbeing. Don’t be afraid to pivot to newly discovered pathways that minimize burnout and foster growth in the next generation of pediatric physician leaders.
The reasons staffing shortages exist are complex, and while we can’t rewrite history and change how we got here, we can do a better job preparing future leaders. By investing in mentorship programs that tap into expert insight from senior and retired leaders, we have an opportunity to create a supportive community that positively impacts the future of child health and academic pediatrics.
Wesley D. Millican is the CEO and physician talent officer of CareerPhysician Advisors and CareerPhysician, providers of comprehensive talent solutions for academic children’s hospitals, colleges of medicine and academic medical centers across the nation.