10 Steps for Hospitals to Follow to Recruit New Physicians

I've been a hospital administrator for nearly 30 years and have helped lead a variety of hospitals in urban, suburban and rural settings. Whether or not our plan was to gain market share or to fill gaps due to retirements, physician recruitment has been part of every strategic plan.

The single most important ingredient for a successful strategy is for the entire administrative team to become involved and to analyze the process from the candidate's perspective. Everyone can play a role, whether it's the front receptionist who greets the candidate by name, the staff on the floors during a tour, to the entire executive team that has helped to identify the need and opportunity. Everyone should realize that a long-term relationship with a new physician can generate millions for the bottom line and help secure futures.

By following these 10 steps, a hospital team will position itself to wisely compete against other hospitals in order to be a candidate's top choice.
Darrell Pile
1. Know your community need and convince candidates that there is a predictable long-term demand. The decision to join a hospital for physicians is among the toughest they will make. Successful use of their training and academic accomplishments will either be facilitated or compromised by this decision.

Be able to describe why you are so certain that there is a need for the physician. Show third-party data that demonstrates a shortage for the specialty within key parts of your service area. Describe current wait times and population growth projections. Likewise, describe what your board or your medical staff has said regarding the need to fill the position. If possible, introduce the candidate to them.

Before meeting, know the financial parameters of your offer. Speak confidently in the first visit about an income guarantee, startup assistance or malpractice coverage, and other incentives. Describe the terms of your standard recruitment agreement. Show that you, too, are willing to take a financial risk because you are so certain about the opportunity.

Describe options for an office. Show the different locations, the pros and cons and your top recommendation. Of strategic importance, select potential office locations wisely. Perhaps the candidate should join an existing group with an agreement. Or, possibly your hospital is wise to establish a new office within the growing market. I suggest you structure your recruitment agreement in accordance with advice provided by your legal counsel. The agreement to join a group and an agreement to open a solo office must each be written in a fashion that satisfies applicable law.

2. Conduct a thorough initial telephone interview. When you reach the physician by telephone for an initial interview, the information you gather must go beyond medical training and experience. Be sure to learn what types of patients he or she desires to treat within the specialty. For instance, if you are looking for a family medicine physician to serve as a gatekeeper and referral source for your specialists, be sure to have that discussion in advance since the candidate may instead plan to have a wide scope of services offered without the need for many referrals. These details are important to find out ahead of time.

You also want to learn about the physician's personality, special interests and leisure activities. Find out if the physician is married. Learn about the spouse's career and ambitions. Ask if the candidate has children, how old they are and their interests. What are the physician's hobbies? What type of home is the physician looking for? Where does the extended family live? What would make a near perfect situation for him/her?

As you ask these questions, you will learn more about the personality of the physician and raise your own comfort level as you look for the "right fit". You are working to form a long-term relationship with someone who is getting ready to make a life-changing decision — a decision you hope will favor your facility.

3. Conduct a follow-up interview. You will want to conduct a second telephone interview before scheduling a visit. In advance of the call, consider a web search of the candidate or the name of his/her current employer/clinic. During this call, provide answers to questions asked in the first call, ask any additional questions and revisit the same type of questions you asked during the first call but approaching them in a different way. You will want to confirm that you receive the same answers and reaffirm your initial impressions.

4. Prepare for the site visit. An effective site visit entails much more than just setting up a date and time to meet the physician. Try to schedule the meeting on a day when you have time to genuinely talk without much mental distraction. Always remember that the candidate is absorbing as much verbal and nonverbal information possible. Distractions will likely be regarded in a negative way.

In fact, your entire team should be ready to show genuine interest in the candidate. If the CEO is not the lead person for the site visit, ensure that when the CEO meets the candidate, the time is genuine, not rushed and not "squeezed" into the schedule. Avoid causing the candidate to feel like he/she is an interruption for the CEO.

Likewise, take steps to ensure a pleasant visit. You should set up the physician's hotel near your hospital and make sure transportation is in place — from an airport to the hotel, from the hotel to your hospital and then back. You're going to want to show the physician that your facility is organized and you care about and want to accommodate him or her. Likewise, pay for travel-related expenses in advance rather than requiring the candidate to submit air, hotel or rental care receipts for reimbursement.

Think through the tiniest of details. For example, the front desk personnel should know that there is a new physician candidate coming for an interview and when he or she is expected to arrive. By knowing in advance, they can provide the warmest greeting the physician will likely receive from any other facility the candidate visits.

5. Conduct the tour. The tour should be planned well in advance, and the individual leading the tour, whether it's the medical director or perhaps the chief nursing officer, should know exactly where to take the physician. During the tour, you will want the physician to see the areas where his/her patients will be treated. You will want to bring the physician to your ICU and ER. Also consider bringing the physician by your lab to talk to the pathologist about turnaround times and stop by the reading room in radiology so the radiologist can tell the candidate about the procedures they do and read times. Tell the physicians in these departments that a candidate is coming ahead of time so they are prepared and can have the candidate's profile in their mind.

You're also going to want to make sure employees in these various departments know there's a potential new physician coming for a tour, what his or her name is and when the physician is expected to arrive. Selected staff members should be encouraged to greet the candidate, discuss their work and speak about the team and the community.

I encourage hospitals to plan as much of the tour as they can before the physician arrives, even seemingly insignificant details such as lunch. Sometimes the most effective lunch can be held impromptu in the physicians' dining room. On the other hand, it may be wise for lunch to happen in the conference room with selected physicians.

6. Arrange for meetings with various members of the C-suite. During the visit, make sure your candidate has an opportunity to meet and talk with members of your C-suite. Discuss the candidate in advance and provide every member with the candidate's resume, Each leader can benefit by learning about the discussions held by telephone interview, and each needs to understand the need to fill the position. This will enable your key representatives to build from what has been said and to help affirm your impressions.
Each member can also help to assess the personality of the candidate. For instance, while the CFO may be helpful in answering income guarantee questions, he/she may also be helpful in discussing neighborhoods that may interest the physician or to discuss other topics in common.

Even if these meetings just last 5-10 minutes, by having C-suite members stop by, they will show the physician that the hospital's leadership (often "invisible" to physicians) appreciates the candidate and the challenge of the decision he or she is facing. These discussions will likely leave a powerful and lasting impression on the candidate, and may help the hospital stand out from other organizations.

7. Describe growth opportunities for the physician's practice and your hospital. Most candidates are forward thinking. Be in position to describe his/her likely success in one year, three years and five years. Describe what your hospital is doing to build market share and to promote utilization of its services over those of competitors. Discuss potential physician referral sources for the new physician to meet. Describe again the unmet demand and why you are certain he/she will build a busy practice. Share ideas on how other new physician's marketed their practice. By the way, something as simple as Saturday morning hours is not a bad idea.

8. Personalize the visit. While it's certainly important to give the candidate a good impression of your hospital, there are many other factors likely to determine where the physician ultimately chooses to work. In the past (and especially if a second onsite visit occurs), I have spent time arranging for a realtor to show candidates homes throughout the community. Although a new physician may not be ready to buy a house, it is a great way to acquaint him/her to the community. The realtor would come to the hospital to pick up the candidate during the visit and bring the candidate back to the hospital.

I've taken time to help find jobs for spouses. I've arranged for tours of private schools, and made sure the principal of the schools was available for the physician and spouse. In some cases, the physician may be interested in places of worship, and you will want to arrange visits at these institutions as well.

You need to find out all of these details ahead of time — likely during the telephone call interviews — so you can personalize the visit. Remember: You're trying to form a relationship with someone who has a lot to lose by making a bad decision and relocating to an area that does not meet his or her needs. And by the way, the members of your community who meet with the candidate, including the realtor for instance, can be a great source of feedback for you to build upon.

9. Identify employees who may help answer specific community questions. From swim teams to soccer leagues, church groups, flying lessons, horse stables, Boy Scouts or even adult tennis leagues, your own employees can be your best sales representatives. Do whatever it takes to help a candidate envision the transition to your community. Remember: You may be recruiting an entire family unit. They are also helping the candidate select the best location.

10. Keep building the relationship after the visit. Within two days after the visit, key members of your team should send a thank you note to the candidate. It is also a good time to send additional material about key lifestyle interests that you learned about during the interview. Consider sending a booklet describing your community, or nearby horse stables or communities with tennis courts, etc. Your chamber of commerce may be a great source for that information as well as new community home centers (since they also tend to promote all attributes of your area). In short, take one more step to give your recruitment approach an added touch.

By the way, be sure to cast many lines into the water. I have found the most success in recruiting new physicians by using three or four contingency search firms simultaneously (but make sure to keep track of situations where the same candidate may be submitted to you by two or three different companies). Stay in touch with the recruiters and be the squeaky wheel. They also want to work with hospitals that are serious about placing candidates.

Finally, the odds of recruiting a new grad this coming June intensifies in December/January. Planning ahead is wise since most physicians will choose their organization by February.

Darrell Pile is an executive advisor for Outpatient Healthcare Strategies (www.outpatienthcs.com), a provider of healthcare consultancy services for hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and physician group practices based in Houston.

More Articles on Physician Recruitment:

Changing Physician Desires Affect Recruitment
Employing Physicians: Leverage the Honeymoon to Ensure Success for the Future

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