The COVID-19 pandemic challenged ASCs in many areas, including hiring. For some centers, physician recruitment was hit due to factors including limited visits and canceled contracts. For others, the pandemic didn't pose a significant roadblock to finding talent.
Here's how the past year affected physician recruitment for seven leaders:
Note: Responses were edited for style and length.
Adam Bruggeman, MD. CEO of Texas Spine Care Center (San Antonio): Many of the larger healthcare systems canceled contracts and/or refused to enter into contracts for recruitment. As most orthopedic practices rely upon large hospitals to help with recruitment, this significantly impeded the ability of small and large groups to bring on new physicians.
On a separate note, the limited operative experience in the second half of 2019-20 fellowships has created concerns among surgeons as to the ability of new physicians to transition successfully to practice. More attention has been paid recently to volume and breadth of cases coming out of fellowship.
Margaret Chappell, RN. CEO of Center for Advanced Surgery (Ladson, S.C.): Physician recruitment has changed dramatically over the past year. The pandemic has made it more difficult to recruit in person, which is always necessary when asking a physician to begin practicing in your facility. Most centers are limiting visitors, so the simple act of touring a facility to get the lay of the land is limited. Physicians are more skeptical of change during these uncertain times of a pandemic.
Financials are volatile in ASCs, as most of us were closed for two months in 2020. This has made it even more difficult to recruit, as we don't have a recent full 12 months of profitability to share with a potential new recruit.
Daniel Larose, MD. CEO of Advanced Surgery Center (Omaha, Neb.): In our market, it is difficult to recruit physicians that are not already aligned with a health system, but it is still possible. I do not believe that there have been significant changes in the last year. However, at the practice level we are seeing an increase in the response to our recruiting efforts. The most significant increase has been from physicians that have been in practice and are relocating. New grads from strong programs are still in high demand especially, in the total joint replacement specialty.
Dan Goodman, MD. CEO of Goodman Eye Center (San Francisco): I have been a solo practitioner of ophthalmology in San Francisco for over 25 years. I was able to successfully recruit an outstanding cornea and refractive surgery fellowship-trained surgeon this past year. Great practices with challenging and exciting patient case mix and high pathology in a desirable location will always attract excellent practice associates.
Jan Dees. President and CEO of American Vascular Associates (Palm Harbor, Fla.): We are recruiting less and placing more physicians. We have had an uptick in physicians reaching out to us during the pandemic for opening new centers and looking for alternatives to the hospital setting. Physicians who were contemplating opening a vascular center have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to make that commitment.
We have continued in select markets to recruit for additional physicians in our existing locations, as well, and have been successful for the same reasons. The patients' hesitancy to go to a hospital and the availability, convenience and improved patient satisfaction have been drivers of the sustainable interest we have experienced.
Tim Dicke, MD. CEO of OrthoIndy (Indianapolis): At OrthoIndy, we were fortunate that we had not previously committed to hire any new surgeons finishing training in mid-2020 prior to the pandemic. We continued to talk with potential recruits through the pandemic and did offer contracts to two surgeons and two anesthesiologists during 2020, but did not have any new providers start until January 2021.
There was concern of whether there were going to be additional mandated shutdowns as well as change of patient interest in elective surgeries, which created some degree of risk. Currently, we are optimistic that patient demand will remain strong for our services and we will continue to hire based on need and opportunity.
Susan Turney, MD. CEO of Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic Health System: The pandemic has certainly changed things, and it will continue to well into the future. Pre-pandemic, a Merritt Hawkins survey showed 93 percent of final-year medical residents preferred to practice in communities of 50,000 people or more. Nearly every community we serve is smaller than 50,000, so this has been a major challenge.
However, we've seen with the pandemic that people are starting to leave cities and flock to suburbs and even rural areas. I think this trend may have some long-term legs, and would certainly be beneficial for rural communities. We've seen an improvement in 2020 from 2019 of 37 percent in our number of physicians and [advanced practice clinicians] recruited. Recently, we brought some new leadership and staff into the recruitment fold, and we've put a renewed focus on recruitment, onboarding, engagement and retention.