The overall concept of a physician tuition reimbursement program is to attract physicians by helping to pay off their school debt. The “hope” is that the physicians will come for the tuition reimbursement money, then fall in love with the job, the people and the community and stay. It’s a great idea, but “hope” is not a strategy because in the vast majority of cases, it falls far short of expectations.
I was a featured speaker at an annual conference for rural health clinics. My topic was talent recruitment and retention. During the Q&A session, an executive from a large hospital group asked me a some very good questions. Afterwards, we had a nice long conversation about recruitment and retention incentives, including tuition reimbursement programs. I asked him if his organization had received grant money for tuition reimbursement. His response was not a glowing review of tuition reimbursement programs.
He told me YES, physician candidates do come for the grant money. He went on to share with me that in addition to the grant money, the first thing they asked for is a title. He went on to say they also want a signing bonus, moving expenses, and living expenses. He then added that as soon as they get their title, they put it on their resume and start sending out their resume to the places where they really want to work. Then, when their time commitment is up, they leave and his organization is back at square one with more turnover costs. Clearly, this man was not happy with the result.
I wasn’t surprised at his response, because if you have short-term solution, you should expect as short-term result. If you have a one, two three-year tuition reimbursement program you should expect a one, two or three-year result.
Tuition reimbursement will work much better for you if it is tied to a long-term retention strategy. The ideal long-term retention strategy is a retirement program with a long-term vesting period. Using the tuition reimbursement program as part of the incentive attraction, you add in a retirement program with a 10 to 20-year vesting period. When the tuition reimbursement time commitment is up, you still have the retirement program to keep the physician from leaving. Without the retirement plan in place, the physician generally has nothing to lose by leaving. If you have the retirement plan and vesting period in place, you have just given the physician something to lose by leaving. Moreover, if the plan works, you keep the physician, if the plan fails, you keep the money that has been invested in the plan.