7 essential steps to take during (and after) a restructuring or layoff

This article is sponsored by Careers by KevinMD.com.

Employer consolidation due to the mergers and acquisitions of hospitals and health systems is becoming increasingly common within the health care industry. In fact, merger and acquisition activity doubled in the first half of this year, with the volume of value health care sector deals increasing to $315.74 billion and total health care sector deals reaching more than $2.5 trillion.

Though the exact factors driving this frenzy — from lower patient admissions and reimbursements to increased pressure to improve outcomes while reducing expenses — are up for debate, the results of big deals such as those between Sanford Health and Good Samaritan in South Dakota and Bon Secours and Mercy Health in the eastern U.S. are often similar: departmental restructuring and even the layoff of some health care staff.

“If you’re working in health care, it’s very likely that you’ll eventually go through a restructuring, merger, acquisition or divestiture,” says Terry Hoffmann, senior transition coach with RiseSmart, an outplacement services company. “It’s something that has been going on quite a bit over the last 30 years but has really accelerated in the last 10 years or so.” She points to weak earnings, hiring freezes and major cost-cutting initiatives as signs that layoffs could be headed your way.

“You should also look for significant changes in leadership, particularly if that leadership comes from outside,” adds Jacqueline Huntly, MD, MPH and a certified physician development coach specializing in career and leadership issues. “That shows there’s the potential for restructuring and other changes.” Huntly notes that major workflow alterations can also signal significant changes ahead.

William Brady, physician, health economist and coach, agrees. “From the economics point of view, losing market share and declining revenues are big red flags,” he says. “This will most likely result in some type of leadership change, if not ownership change. That’s when you typically start seeing restructuring and layoffs, though you may see organizations that want to grow the company as well.”

While the experts we spoke to about this topic agree that continually increasing demand for physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other advanced practice providers should offer some measure of security for professionals in these positions, they also note that there are several important steps you should be prepared to take to protect your career.

1. Investigate the issue

While some hospitals or health systems may issue a press release about the merger or acquisition and detail the size and scope of any planned layoffs, not all will. For this reason, our experts recommend speaking with the leaders at your institution — if you’re comfortable doing so — as well as tuning in to the employee rumor mill.

“Get to the bottom line with the issue,” says Brady. “Ask your manager, ‘Where does my department stand with restructuring or layoffs?’ If the answer is vague or noncommittal, then you’ll want to get your resume up to date and start looking for other opportunities.” If you hear words such as “streamlining,” “rebalancing,” “pivoting” or “shifting focus” bandied about, you may also want to be wary.

2. Stay involved

Once restructuring is confirmed, look for opportunities to participate in leading the change — especially if you’re eager to remain with your current employer. “During [mergers and acquisitions] there may be opportunities to actually join the change management team,” says Brady. “That’s something I really encourage doing. There will usually be committees of people and discussions to gather input. Join in on those and show yourself as a leader as well as someone who is positive and has ideas.”

3. Update your resume

“Take a look at your resume or CV and make sure it’s up to date,” says Huntly. “If you haven’t done that in a while, or you aren’t sure what employers are looking for, it can be worth hiring a professional to help you.” It may be helpful to review past performance appraisals and any emails of praise you’ve received from leadership when considering how your work has impacted the success of the health care organization as a whole.

Huntly also urges health care professionals to “Think deeply and broadly about all of your skills, not just the clinical ones. What kind of leadership experience do you have? Have you served on any committees? What skills did you use that might be of value to another organization?”

4. Nurture your network

It’s important to build and start nurturing a network as soon as possible — if you haven’t already done so — says Hoffmann. “If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, get one up now,” she adds. Connect with your current leadership team and coworkers as well as past coworkers, managers and other professionals who can speak to your skills and accomplishments. While you’re at it, request LinkedIn recommendations from those who can best serve as references.

But don’t do any of this in a panic. Huntly explains that your mindset is critical. “By that, I mean try not to see yourself as needy and devastated,” she continues. “That can be hard to do, but it’s very important both for your own well-being and how it will influence the way you present yourself to other people. Phone friends and find out if they have contacts at other organizations. Then leverage those contacts in such a way that you can present yourself as a valuable entity who has something to offer their institution.”

5. Head to HR

If you receive notice that your position will be eliminated and you’re going to be laid off, don’t postpone visiting your health system’s human resources department.

“It’s important to take the time to understand the benefits being provided to you by your company,” says Emily Elder, senior manager of practice development at RiseSmart. “Most companies will have some level of outplacement benefits, and you will want to take advantage of them. Even if you think you know plenty of people and how to get another job, gaining a different perspective or having a professional review your resume or CV can be critically helpful.”

Common outplacement benefits include professional career coaching, resume assistance and help finding relevant job leads. The HR department can also advise you on any severance package you may receive as well as how to enroll in COBRA, transfer your 401(k) or retirement plan, and get paid for any unused personal or vacation time you’ve accrued.

6. Take time to regroup

After a layoff, “Take some downtime so you can come back into the job search with the right energy,” Hoffmann advises. And remember, a restructuring or layoff as the result of a merger or acquisition doesn’t mean the end of your career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the demand for physicians will increase 13 percent between now and 2026. The outlook is even better for NPs (31 percent) and PAs (37 percent), so you’re likely to find plenty of opportunities available.

7. Don’t be afraid of change

When you’re ready to launch into a job search, keep your options open. Brady urges health care professionals to not be afraid of change. “Instead, embrace it,” he says. “Health care is constantly changing, and there are new opportunities every day. You might choose to move to a different part of the country or go into health care management. Many physicians are interested in policy and can find opportunities working for the government or other larger organizations that play a role in developing policy affecting health care. I know a number of physicians who have gone to work for insurance companies or in the investment field as well.”

Huntly agrees that nonclinical jobs are a viable option for many. “Physicians often have this idea that they’re only good for one job, which is seeing patients,” she says. “But there are other opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry, medical writing industry, legal industry and more.”

“You might also want to consider working as a consultant or for a consulting firm,” Hoffmann adds. “Some of the smarter health systems and organizations are progressively becoming physician-led. They need good physicians who can take the clinical skills and then learn the business skills to deliver the best of both worlds. After all, the best patient care comes from people who understand patient needs.”

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