Skip to content

The Importance of Succession Planning – 5 Steps to Consider

Have you planned for the future of your practice? Tracey Cumberland shares five steps to a comprehensive succession strategy.

The physician shortage issue, which has been a concern for decades, has now escalated to critical levels. This shortage is not limited to physicians but has also affected other healthcare clinicians and staff. A 2021 whitepaper[1] by MGMA and Jackson Physician Search revealed that while healthcare administrators acknowledge the importance of succession planning, only a mere 16% of these leaders had a formal physician or leadership succession plan in place.  

Why do you need to care about a succession plan?  
As a practice consultant who has helped many clients, I know firsthand how crucial succession planning is in medical practice. It allows an organization to have a roadmap on where they want to go and how they plan on getting there. In addition, it helps identify and develop current team members, which fosters a growth and professional advancement culture that will assist you in retaining your staff. 

Every practice, regardless of size, needs a succession strategy for the health of its organization. A plan supports operational needs and helps ensure the continuity of care, maintain operational stability, and protect the organization's financial health. You may be many years, even decades, away from retirement. However, someone in your practice could be one unfortunate incident away (disability, etc) from needing to implement a succession plan tomorrow. Therefore, as a practice leader who is vital to this process, now’s the best time to plan for your practice’s future.  

I’d like to share these five steps for practice leaders to consider when developing your organization’s succession plan: plan may include: 

  1. Identify key positions in your practice. 

    One of the crucial steps in developing a succession plan is identifying key positions. These are the roles that are essential for your practice’s continued success in the future. They may include senior physicians, the practice manager or administrator, other organizational leaders, advanced practitioners, and staff members with specialized skills and training. This step is not just about replacing current team members' duties but also about planning for changes in future needs. Your role in this process is vital, as you understand the intricacies of your practice and can identify the positions that are critical for its future success.

  2. Establish clear criteria for succession. 

    Clearly define the criteria and qualifications required for individuals to be considered for succession into critical roles. For administrative leadership, pay attention to the technical skills and leadership qualities essential for the role. With physicians, you must regularly assess your workforce for potential departures—via retirement or for any other reason. Be in a place of anticipation so that you can best be prepared. Data from Jackson Physician Search suggests that physician recruitment usually takes 6 to 18 months, depending on specialty, practice type, location, and available compensation and benefits. You need to consider the time to recruit external candidates and if an interim plan is needed.  

  3. Assess current talent. 

    After you have defined the critical roles within your organization, take some time to evaluate the skills, competencies, and potential of your current staff members, both clinical and non-clinical. Discuss career aspirations with potential successors to gauge their interest and commitment what training or experience they may need to gain and in what timeframe. You can use existing performance data to identify high performers who consistently exceed expectations. Assess employees’ potential to take on more significant roles—this could be done through 360-degree feedback, psychometric testing, and evaluations of leadership potential. Identify any gaps in the skills or experiences of potential successors based on the requirements of your key positions.

  4. Identify potential successors and provide mentorship and coaching. 

    If you have internal candidates for roles, you could establish mentorship and coaching programs that pair high-potential employees with experienced leaders. This will facilitate knowledge transfer and skill development and support a continuous learning and development culture within your organization. Select experienced and capable leaders in your organization who can be mentors and coaches. You will need time to recruit external candidates if required, and they will need time to learn the new organization's ways, principles, and beliefs. Recruitment, licensing, and credentialing for physicians and advanced practitioners can be arduous and time-consuming. Once new clinicians are hired and onboarded, they also must be mentored and coached.

  5. Develop and document your succession plan.

    Document the succession plan by outlining roles, responsibilities, timelines, and steps for transition. Share your succession plan with staff to ensure transparency and support and so that they understand the opportunities for advancement. Have you addressed potential gaps in leadership or clinicians? Think outside the box—for example, a transition plan could include retiring physicians having the option to work a part-time schedule within the practice. Evaluate and update your plan regularly (quarterly or annually).  

    Life happens—physicians, administrators, and staff leave your organization—they retire, move on to other opportunities, get sick, etc. By prioritizing comprehensive succession planning, your organization can be ready to respond and ensure stability, maintain continuity of patient care, safeguard your financial and operational health, and improve staff satisfaction and retention. If you don’t have a succession plan, get started on one today!   

Please contact Curi Advisory if you want us to share with you a blank succession planning form to help you get started.  

Facing other staffing challenges? Download our ebook, “Surviving the Medical Practice Staffing Shortage: Strategies for Success” to uncover creative HR ideas and solutions for your organization.