Healthcare Hiring hacks: 4 Behavioral Economics Concepts

Recruitment and retention in healthcare is a challenge. From long work hours to occupational burnout the healthcare industry is struggling to recruit and retain the best people. These challenges are multiplied for FQHCs, not-for-profit senior communities, and non-profit health centers with tighter budgets and fewer resources.  Recruitment and retention is not just a problem for your HR department. Understaffed organizations lead to, inconsistent care, poor patient/resident experiences, high turnover, and lower capacity, ultimately negatively affecting patient outcomes.  According to Kaufman Hall’s 2023 State of Financial Performance Report, 32% of healthcare leaders say they are getting more complaints from patients about limited access to physicians, indicating that the shortages are not going unnoticed to patients. These poor experiences have a direct impact on marketing functions like an organization’s reputation. Hope is not lost; here are 4 behavioral economics strategies that you can use alongside your HR department to improve recruitment and retention!

The brain is a highly complex machine tasked with making thousands of conscious and unconscious decisions daily.  While other parts of the human body, like the heart, are understood by doctors and scientists on both a mechanical and detailed level, the brain is a little different.  In the last 10 years, there have been substantial innovations in brain imaging and neurology bringing us closer to understanding how the brain works. While we do not always know WHY the brain makes these assumptions, we are beginning to understand WHAT kind of assumptions the brain makes subconsciously.  Understanding these biases and heuristics can better inform messaging and strategies for recruiting the right healthcare workers for your organization.

Did you know that if you get someone to take one small step towards commitment, it exponentially increases their likelihood of fully committing? Psychologists have coined this “The Foot in the Door Effect.”  The Foot in the Door Effect is a great concept to keep in mind when developing recruitment messaging. Rather than immediately focusing on applications submitted, start by encouraging commitment to something smaller. An application may seem daunting or inconvenient in the moment a candidate sees your display ad; instead, prompt them to sign up for email or text updates regarding open positions, make your application available to save for later, or find another creative way to encourage a small first step. Once candidates have made a small commitment to your organization, they are far more likely to go through the whole application process.

When it comes to physician retention, the experiencing self and the remembering self are key players. Professor of Psychology and scientist, Daniel Kahneman is well-known and admired for his work defining this phenomenon. Essentially, the experiencing self is what one experiences and goes through on daily basis. Meanwhile, the remembering self is how one recalls the experience afterward and is highly influenced by that which happens toward the end of a moment or memory.

What does this mean for physician retention? Acknowledging the experiencing and remembering selves can help your team make strategic decisions regarding the delivery of exciting news, timing of company incentives, and more. For example, say you are organizing an event to interview physicians regarding their mission focus and love for their job.  Doctor A does this first thing in the morning and is greeted with donuts and coffee as a thank you before he sings praises and remembers how important his work is. Later in the day Doctor A has a poor experience when entering data in the EMR and IT was not so prompt/friendly with the solution. Doctor A goes home and sees an advertisement for hiring at the clinic down the street and remembers that frustrating experience with the EMR and starts to consider if it is time for a change.  On the other hand, Doctor B starts his morning with the same poor experience with the EMR and IT. However, his day ends by filming a video where he is reminded how important his work is and how much he loves his job; as a thank you he gets a soda and a cookie to enjoy. Doctor B goes home and sees the same ad, but doesn’t think anything of it because as he reflects he remembers how great of an afternoon he had and the importance of his mission. Doctor A and Doctor B experienced the same day. Both had similar EMR experiences, and both had similar video experiences. However, the remembering self influenced Doctor A to immediately recall his frustration that recurred at the end of the day.

When you think about sending out internal marketing notifications or planning outreach, consider what times of day will maximize your opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the remembering self.

Have you ever caught yourself seeking out instant gratification instead of holding out for something you know is better in the long run? This cognitive bias is known as “hyperbolic discounting” or “present bias.”  Essentially, when presented with a choice of a small immediate reward or a larger reward later, most individuals choose the smaller award.

What does this mean in recruiting? When resources are limited, consider things like signing bonuses or other immediate benefits. While many health centers are up against larger hospitals that have more financial resources to offer in wages and salaries, clinics can capitalize on one’s disposition towards immediate benefits in their recruitment strategy.

The Noble Edge Effect describes the idea that when an organization demonstrates genuine social responsibility, they are rewarded with increased respect by consumers, or in this case recruits and staff. Keep your mission at the top of your mind for every campaign and strategy you execute. By focusing your content on your mission, your recruits, and employees will continue to grow respect for your organization and increase loyalty.


As you implement these practices into your Marketing strategy and share them across departments, be sure to keep ethical practices in mind.  Using the theories of behavioral economics, your organization can get a leg up in recruiting and retention. This is not a replacement for strong human resource practices.  Additionally, the last thing that you want to do is give the impression of manipulation.  Make sure you are transparent and honest to avoid this.

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