6 Tips for Recruiting Physicians to Rural Hospitals

Rural hospitals and health systems face many challenges that similar organizations in large metropolitan areas do not, especially when it comes to physician recruitment. Physicians usually prefer to practice in large metro areas, making it difficult for rural hospitals to compete for talented physicians.

"It was difficult to find a qualified provider who was willing to work out here," John Gardner, CEO of rural Yuma (Colo.) District Hospital, told Becker's Hospital Review in November last year. The hospital had such a tough time with physician recruitment, it spent about $1 million on locum tenens recruiting in one year alone.

Mr. Gardner and Yuma District Hospital are not alone — according to The Medicus Firm's 2013 physician survey, only about 1.8 percent of residents and fellows and 7.2 percent of practicing physicians prefer to live in a rural area.

"However, keep in mind that you only need one — or a few — [physicians] to [end] your search," says Jim Stone, co-owner and cofounder of The Medicus Firm physician search and president of the National Association of Physician Recruiters. "Remain positive and persistent with your efforts. You may have to shuck a lot of oysters to find the pearl."

Eventually, Mr. Gardner solved his physician recruitment dilemma, and other rural hospitals can do the same. Here, Mr. Stone shares six tips for recruiting physicians to rural hospitals and health systems.

1. Control what you can. Hospitals and systems can't simply change their location or their population, but there are a few things organizations can control when it comes to wooing physicians, according to Mr. Stone. Just a few examples of controllable aspects include: the targeted physicians, the compensation package and marketing approach. Hospitals should zero in on these variables.

2. Do due diligence on all candidates. Hospitals should make an effort to understand physicians' context before approaching them. "Don't assume a candidate's preferences until you thoroughly discuss their needs and wants in a community," says Mr. Gardner. It could be that a candidate is in the minority in his or her organization and really wants to practice in a rural area. "Doing due diligence related to the candidate’s situation prior to presenting your opportunity is key."

3. Prepare presentations individually and thoroughly. After looking into each candidate through due diligence, rural hospitals should prepare their presentations according to individual candidates' preferences. "Know the strengths and weaknesses of your opportunity as they relate to the physician's job search objectives," Mr. Stone explains. In addition to catering presentations to individual tastes, the presentations should focus on the strengths of the opportunity for the physician. "Don't get mired in the details of patients per day and collection percentages," he says. "[Characterize] what it is like to live and work in the community and what makes it special."

4. Involve your current physicians. Physicians who are considering taking a new position in a rural area will naturally wonder what it's like to live and practice in the community. "Involving other successful, satisfied physicians in the interview process will help showcase the practice opportunity from a physician's perspective," says Mr. Stone.

5. Reach out far and wide. "There's no sure-fire way to find candidates in this competitive market," says Mr. Stone. So, he encourages rural hospitals to market the job opportunity in a variety of ways, like job boards, direct mail, email and social media. "Don't limit your target audience to places nearby or to one medium."

6. Start early and be efficient. According to Mr. Stone, rural hospital physician positions can take awhile to fill. "Try to identify needs and activate searches as soon as possible," he urges. In addition to starting the recruitment process early, rural hospitals also need to be as efficient as possible. "Physicians are inundated daily with new job solicitations," Mr. Stone explains. "The more quickly you can move candidates through the process, the greater your chances of success."

After a rural hospital successfully fills an open physician position, Mr. Stone then urges them to continue recruiting the physician after he or she signed the contract. "Assist with relocation needs and support as the physician gets set up in the community," he says. This helps ensure the organization retains the physician for the long haul.

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