Primary care recruitment: How 3 organizations are moving the needle

Effectively recruiting primary care physicians amid shortages in many U.S. areas has become even more crucial as hospitals look to increase their workforce in preparation for large surges of COVID-19 patients. Worries about staffing shortages are also emerging as the virus could sicken employees and take them out of the workforce. To attract the best talent, healthcare organizations must develop unique methods. 

"Primary care physicians have literally dozens of practice opportunities to choose from today, so hospitals have to get creative in order to stand out," said Travis Singleton, executive vice president at Merritt Hawkins, a physician search/recruiting firm.

The Association of American Medical Colleges projects the U.S. faces a potential shortage of 21,100 to 55,200 primary care physicians by 2032. At the same time, Census Bureau data shows the U.S. population age 65 and older is projected to grow by 48 percent by 2032, creating more demand for physicians as seniors use more healthcare services. 

Becker's spoke with three healthcare organizations with three different perspectives to learn about their primary care recruitment methods. Here's how they are addressing recruitment.

Focus on culture

"It's one thing to get physicians or clinicians to sign a contract. It's another thing to get them to believe in your mission."

— Melody Pierre-Gilles, chief of staff with ProHealth Care

ProHealth Care, a physician-led medical group in Lake Success, N.Y., is part of UnitedHealth Group's Optum. The group has 1,000 clinicians within the greater New York City area and 4,000 employees overall. Forty percent of its physicians are in primary care, while 60 percent are specialty physicians. Eighty percent of ProHealth employees are women.

Melody Pierre-Gilles, chief of staff with ProHealth Care, said while the staff is impressive, retaining physicians, regardless of their specialty requires a good workplace culture. 

To differentiate itself from other healthcare organizations, ProHealth last year established a Women in Medicine Committee, which highlights the group's female physicians and clinicians. The committee allows women across the organization to contribute to ProHealth through development of evidence-based practices, or by supporting physician recruitment or community-based activities. 

In 2019, the Women in Medicine Committee was responsible for multiple community-centered events, including a Cancer Survivors Day event and an event for Alzheimer's Caregivers awareness. The committee also partnered with ProHealth's philanthropic arm, PHamily Circle. Through that partnership, ProHealth provided more than 3,000 toiletries and other items to a community women's shelter. Additionally, the chair of ProHealth's Women in Medicine Committee and the chair of pain medicine at ProHealth joined forces last year to build the organization's first center of excellence for neck and back pain. 

"We recognize that being part of Optum gives us some impressive numbers to present as far as our scale and national impact," said Ms. Pierre-Gilles. "But when we talk about recruiting and retaining our physicians and clinicians, we place an emphasis on the culture within our organization, and that's at a high level focusing on our core values of relationships, integrity, compassion and innovation." 

Expedient follow-up with job candidates

"We're diligent in follow-up and getting to offer quickly — just the basic blocking and tackling I think more [health systems] should utilize.

— Mohammad Salameh, MD, executive vice president and CMO of IHA

IHA, a multispecialty group based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is affiliated with Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health. The group is among the state's largest multispecialty groups with more than 100 office locations and more than 500 physicians. Since 2017, IHA has recruited about 65 new physicians to the practice, including pediatrics and OB-GYN. 

Since the group is part of Trinity Health, it has access to a national recruiter employed by the health system. That recruiter sources candidates for IHA from across the country and presents them to the group as job candidates.

Mohammad Salameh, MD, executive vice president and CMO of IHA, said the recruiter knows the caliber of person to look for, and once IHA demonstrates interest in a candidate, it acts quickly to schedule interviews and then present an offer as appropriate. Promptly following up with job candidates is a focus of IHA's recruitment strategy, 

"One of the biggest complaints residents have when looking for a job is [health] systems don't always follow-up with them in a timely fashion, which shows they may not be interested, and this delays decision-making for the candidate," said Dr. Salameh. 

Aside from being diligent in follow-up with candidates, he said the group also is creative with initial contract offers, taking into account location. For example, IHA has a location in Clinton, Mich., in a more rural community. Dr. Salameh said the group's initial offer may add additional incentives for someone to go there that may not necessarily be needed in Ann Arbor, Mich., where it's easier to recruit. 

IHA also uses state and federal programs to attract physicians. Since IHA has locations in Clinton and Brooklyn, Mich., which are designated as healthcare need areas, there are loan repayment programs physicians can sometimes take advantage of in exchange for committing to work in the area. 

"We were able to recruit excellent providers who have at least a five-year commitment because they are in an area that lacks resources," said Dr. Salameh.

Recruit local

"We think our best bet to have great rural physicians is to find kids who've grown up in this rural area who enjoy and appreciate this lifestyle and have those connections with family and friends and social institutions."

— Jon D. Doolittle, regional president of Mosaic Medical Center – Albany (Mo.)

Mosaic Medical Center-Albany is part of St. Joseph, Mo.-based Mosaic Life Care.

The 25-bed critical access hospital and its four affiliated family care clinics, which combine to employ 165 caregivers, focus on engaging with local students from an early age to develop a potential pipeline of future job candidates.  

Jon D. Doolittle, regional president of Mosaic Medical Center-Albany, said the hospital is lead sponsor and facilitator of citizenship and personal development programs for elementary school students throughout its region. It also works with the Northwest Missouri Area Health Education Center to support middle school and high school students going through the health education center programming. Through the programming, students learn about careers, have job shadowing opportunities and build a social network with other students in the region who are interested in healthcare careers. There are also internship opportunities for undergraduate college students.

Mr. Doolittle said the hospital this summer will have at least two interns from a nearby community, who have identified a desire to work in the area as physicians.

"We'll take advantage of their gifts to do some extra work around the hospital, continue to develop those relationships and help them become familiar with us," he added. "We hope to convince them five to seven years from now that this will be a great place to practice."


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