How to Better Recruit Millennial Pathologists

Anatomic pathology practices need to update their recruiting techniques to stay competitive

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Rich-Cornell

 CEO SUMMARY: With the Great Resignation taking its toll on existing pathology rosters and only a small pool of talent to replace the retirees, competition is intense to fill open roles. Pathology groups and clinical laboratories must adjust their hiring methods to better attract Millennial candidates, a group with professional and personal priorities different from those of Baby Boomer and Gen X pathologists. 

MILLENIAL PATHOLOGISTS LEAVING RESIDENCY TO BEGIN THEIR PROFESSIONAL CAREERS have different needs and priorities compared with older generations. This presents unique new challenges for pathology groups and clinical laboratories competing to recruit the best and brightest young pathologists. 

Exacerbating this new dynamic in pathologist employment is the one-two punch of a historically-low pathology talent pool combined with the Great Resignation, which saw older pathologists retire in large waves during the pandemic. 

Reality of Today’s Job Market 

One expert in the field urges pathology groups wanting to fill open positions to recognize the reality of the current job market for pathologists, where the scales are tipped in favor of candidate pathologists and against labs seeking to fill open positions. 

“What I tell labs and pathology groups is that they have to change their mindset in recruiting talent today,” said Rich Cornell, President and Founder of Santé Consulting, a pathologist and laboratory medicine recruiting firm in Chesterfield, Mo. “Their old methodologies don’t work in today’s market.” 

Cornell pointed to job listings on PathologyOutlines.com and the College of American Pathologists website as one indicator of the challenge. These days, he explained, there are more listed openings for pathologists than at any time in the past 20 years, and this only tells part of the story. (See TDR, “Record 600 Pathologist Jobs Open Nationwide,” Aug. 16, 2021.) 

“I would say two-thirds of the jobs are actually posted in one of those two websites, and one-third are not,” he noted. 

So how does a lab adapt its recruiting practices to this new job market? Cornell offered suggestions in an interview with The Dark Report and during a session at April’s Executive War College Conference on Laboratory and Pathology Management, titled, “Pathology’s Hottest Job Market in Two Decades: Proven Ways to Make Your Practice Competitive When Recruiting.” 

“When attempting to recruit a senior pathologist or medical director with, let’s say, 15 years of experience, that process is going to look a lot different when the recruit is a Generation X candidate versus a Millennial,” Cornell said. “It’s essential that the lab or pathology group know the candidate pool from which it wants to recruit and adjust its process. Cookie cutter approaches won’t succeed in today’s job market. It is essential to have a strategy tailored to attract the most talented candidates.” 

For many pathology practices, this means gaining a greater understanding of the Millennial generation, loosely defined as people born from 1980 through the mid-1990s. Within the next four years, “up to 75% of the workforce is going to be Millennials,” Cornell noted, and pathologists who are Baby Boomers or Gen Xers need to be aware that Millennials have different workplace and lifestyle priorities. 

“They don’t like a competitive environment,” he said of the younger generation. “They like to collaborate. They like inclusion. They thrive when they have a purpose. They love technology.”

Gearing Up for Millennials

Cornell recommends that forward-thinking pathology practices should take the following eight actions to attract more Millennial candidates:

  1. Accelerate the hiring pace. Younger physicians make decisions quickly, Cornell said, which means practices should speed up the interview process. He advised conducting the initial interviews virtually, and “the closing sequence of that candidate needs to be weeks, if not days,” instead of months.
  2. Once a pathology group completes the onsite interview, “give candidates immediate feedback within two to three days on how you’re going to proceed in that process. Don’t wait, especially if they’re an A-list candidate.”
  3. Don’t forget the family. “Practices are not just recruiting the clinician, they’re recruiting the family,” Cornell advised, noting that “60% of a candidate’s decision, if not more, is going to be based on spousal needs, family needs, and lifestyle. So, make sure that the recruitment process encompasses that.”
  4. In cases where candidates bring their families to an onsite visit, “have a separate itinerary for the family and spouse. Have a welcoming basket in the hotel room with snacks and things that are local to the area,” Cornell suggested. “Include a handwritten note from the practice or group welcoming them to the community.”
  5. Ask younger pathologists on staff to take the lead. “A practice may have a Boomer who is nearing retirement trying to recruit into the practice, because they’ve always done that function,” Cornell said. “But for pathology groups that want to be successful, the face of the practice should be somebody who’s maybe Gen X or a Millennial.”
  6. Assign roles to job interviewers. Cornell pointed to a common—yet counterproductive—scenario in many interview processes. “What happens if a pathologist interviews the candidate and hasn’t been coached on their role?” Cornell asked. “The first thing they say is, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ Then the candidate goes to the next interview, and again the first question is, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ It’s the same conversation over and over. Instead, each interviewer should have an assigned role. For example, the head of the group might discuss business dynamics, whereas another interviewer can discuss caseloads or call schedules.”
  7. Point to work/life balance benefits. Flexible schedules and paid time off can be just as enticing as high salaries for some candidates, especially those with young families or aging parents. The pandemic reset many Millennials’ expectations on how they balance work duties and their personal lives.
  8. Offer a mentorship program. “This is where the Gen X, mid-career person comes into play,” Cornell noted. “Most residency and fellowship programs don’t address the business aspects of pathology and community practice in their training, so this is one area where mentorship can be especially helpful.”

Rethinking Compensation

With more demand for job candidates, salaries and bonuses are also on the rise, Cornell observed. Hiring budgets need to reflect this fact at the risk of falling behind competitors. For example, first-year pathologists at academic medical centers were making an average of $200,000 to $220,000 before the pandemic. Today, that compensation is now up to $230,000 to $240,000. 

“These numbers are relevant because many academic centers are aggressively recruiting subspecialty pathologists,” he continued. “Private pathology labs must recognize this reality and be prepared to offer competitive compensation and benefits packages to the most desirable candidates.” 

Among Cornell’s placements, the highest compensation for a first-year recruit was $350,000 for a gastrointestinal pathologist in California. “Pathologists who have been in practice for a number of years cringe when they see these numbers,” he said. “They remember what they got paid when they first came out of fellowship. Today’s higher compensation reflects the high demand for qualified pathologists.”

Practices are also beefing up other forms of compensation, including relocation assistance, signing bonuses, retirement plans, and paid health insurance. 

Bigger Signing Bonuses

“We see signing bonuses in the $20,000 to $25,000 range,” Cornell noted. “In previous years, we did not often see signing bonuses for candidates. If they did get one, it might have been in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.”

The cost and effort to hire new pathologists points to a related and growing need for practices to control costs more efficiently and seek new ways to generate additional revenue. These initiatives will lead to a more financially-sustainable pathology practice that is prepared for future staffing needs.

Although this is a challenging time for recruitment, Cornell sees positive signs on the horizon. “There is a lot of technology advancing in lab medicine, digital pathology, informatics, and molecular and genome testing,” he added. “This has special appeal for Millennials.”

Avoiding Pathologist Retention Headaches

AS COMPETITION GOES UP FOR NEW HIRES, pathology practices face an age-old dilemma: Do they also adjust the pay scales for the currently-employed pathologists? The impact of the hiring crunch on existing staff is an important consideration for observant pathologists, said Rich Cornell, President and Founder of Santé Consulting. 

“Assume your group recruited a pathologist in the last three or four years at X salary. Today your group will pay X+ salary to hire a new pathologist. What’s going to happen?” Cornell asked. “The current employees will go out and have a couple drinks or a watercooler conversation and talk about the compensation.”

As a result, pathology groups may have to create more parity for existing staff compensation as it compares with new hires. Another approach is to consider other measures, such as enhancing benefit packages. “Otherwise, you’re going to have employee retention issues down the road, because current pathologists are going to be upset,” he warned.

There are other ways to mitigate the impact, he suggested. “For example, many physicians have $300,000 to $400,000 in student loan debt before they go into practice,” he noted. “Pathology groups could create a student loan repayment program and make this part of the compensation package.”

Contact Rich Cornell at 636-777-7885 or rcornell@santellc.com.

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