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9 Points on Recruiting New Physicians in Tough Markets

Tony Stajduhar, president of the permanent physician recruitment division at Jackson & Coker, discusses four major market barriers surgery centers may face when recruiting new physicians.

Major market problems

1. Gastroenterologists and urologists are in high demand. The demand for particular specialists and subspecialists changes with the needs of patients and the availability of treatments. As the population continues to age, for example, there will be a heightened need for specialists like gastroenterologists and urologists, says Mr. Stajduhar. Demand for cardiovascular surgeons is decreasing, however, due the availability of less invasive cardiology treatments.

A lack of new residency or fellowship programs for sorely-needed specialties will intensify future shortages, he says. "There are no major increases in medical school enrollment, and nothing comes close to settling the needs or demands for doctors going forward."

2. Rural markets lack appeal to physicians and their families. It is often difficult to attract physicians, spouses and children to towns with populations of 40,000 people or fewer, says Mr. Stajduhar. "I'd estimate that less than 10 percent of the physician population wants to practice in rural America, and with the current shortage of physicians, this will continue to get worse," he says.  

Healthcare providers in smaller towns often have to compromise by partnering with a larger physician practice group in a major city that can send a physician to the rural community, he says.  

3. Markets are oversaturated with ambulatory surgery centers. An overabundance of new and existing ambulatory surgery centers is a concern for Mr. Stajduhar. "There are so many people who have wanted to get into the ambulatory surgery center business," he says. "Five to 10 years ago, you would see one here and one there, but now, many groups are opening up ASCs." As competition among ambulatory surgery centers intensifies, it becomes more difficult to distinguish one center among others when recruiting in-demand specialists, he says.

4. Hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers are competing directly for specialists. It is not uncommon for an ambulatory surgery center to be located across the street from a hospital, which can leave both groups competing to recruit the same type of specialists, says Mr. Stajduhar. "When there's no joint venture, that definitely gets conflict going," he says.

Competitive recruitment strategies

Surgery centers in the above markets may need to employ creative and competitive recruitment strategies to distinguish their centers. The recruitment process should focus on building a the relationship with the physician and portraying the surrounding community as a compatible fit — not just for the physicians, but for spouses and family members, too, says Gary Seaberg, director of strategic accounts at HEALTHeCAREERS.

"It's about the whole package – we tend to isolate, but physicians don't just want to come here to practice medicine," he says. "They want to be part of the community." Surgery centers that emphasize this sense of community will have an edge in recruiting physicians to more challenging areas.

Mr. Seaberg discusses five steps in relationship-focused recruitment.

1. Gauge the physician's interests ahead of time. An effective recruitment strategy goes beyond the act of practicing medicine and encompasses lifestyle factors that make a surgery center unique, says Mr. Seaberg. In order to paint an appealing lifestyle picture for the physician, it is important to first arrange a phone call to discuss personal interests. "I always recommend doing your due diligence ahead of time," he says.

The initial communication process typically begins with at least one phone conversation followed by an in-person meeting prior to touring the surgery center. "The purpose of the phone interview is to capture information and develop a relationship," he says, adding that phone conversations are always preferable to having the physician fill out an interest questionnaire. Voice and in-person interactions will create a more meaningful and memorable impression. "It's important to meet them ahead of time, as much in advance as you possible can," he says.

2. Ensure that the physician speaks with members of the community who share mutual interests. Emphasizing mutual interests will allow the physician to envision a life in the surgery center's town. If a prospective physician is interested in golfing, for example, schedule a dinner with other members of the community who are active golfers, Mr. Seaberg says. "Create an interview process that lasts for several days — include dinners, tours of the community and discussions with others with similar interests," he says. "Make them feel welcome before they even move there."

3. Accommodate the needs and interests of the physician's family. A recruiter should ask to speak with the physician's spouse in an initial phone conversation to gauge his or her interests, Mr. Seaberg says. The physician's spouse may oppose relocation altogether. "Some physicians meet their spouse in a major metro area, usually at medical school, and they may not want to move to a different location," he says. "You need to understand that factor when recruiting doctors to smaller towns, for instance."  

If a physician has children, arrange a meeting with the local school superintendent during a visit, says Mr. Seaberg. Discuss the children's interests and which activities within the school district are compatible. "In small communities, it's not difficult to do this," he says. The same practice can be applied to religion — finding and highlighting the closest church can help convince the family that the community would be a good fit. "In one case, there wasn't a synagogue in a particular community, but there was one that we identified 75 miles away that the family could be a part of," he says.

4. Recruit physician assistants. Surgery centers staffed with at least one physician assistant will have a competitive advantage over those that do not have the extra help, says Mr. Seaberg. "Recruiting physician assistants is a huge selling point to a prospective physician" because they often allow physicians to see more patients, he says. "Patients can see a physician assistant who is under the supervision of a physician while that physician is in surgery. The patient can also do a lot of the pre- and post-surgical follow-ups with the physician assistant."

Though physician assistants are particularly advantageous in smaller communities, they appeal to physicians in both rural and metro areas, says Mr. Seaberg. As physician shortages continue, physician assistants will become increasingly valuable recruitment incentives. "There is a big need for physician assistants, and whoever has that competitive advantage will win," he says.  

5. Never stop the recruiting process — even after the physician signs on. Recruitment should last indefinitely, particularly in smaller communities, says Mr. Seaberg. "You can't go assume, 'Oh, we got this physician here. Now he will be happy and stay forever.' But you don't actually stop the process."

It is important to continue to schedule evaluations, social events and meetings with members of the community to keep the physician engaged. "An analogy would be the case of a politician who is always campaigning, always winning votes," Mr. Seaberg says. "When the vote actually does come up for that politician, you want to make sure that the voters know the right candidate."

As with politicians and voters, a surgery center that builds a community connection will increase the odds of physicians staying on board long-term. "You can recruit someone who is specifically there to practice medicine, but they won't stay long," he says. "They'll get discouraged and will leave as soon as something better comes along. But [building a relationship] creates a much better opportunity of maintaining longevity with that physician."  

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