Filling empty physician openings is daunting in the face of a widespread and worsening physician shortage. And it’s even tougher recruiting in rural areas, which may lack big-city amenities or academic opportunities. A mix of creativity and persistence can increase the recruiting success rate in rural hospitals — and strategically deploying locum tenens physicians to fill the gaps can buy a hospital the time needed to find the right permanent placement.
Here are some tried-and-tested tips for successful physician recruitment in rural hospitals.
Nail the site visit
“One of the things that we put a lot of pride in is the site visit itinerary,” says Kayla Silver, physician recruiter for Regional Health. The day starts early and includes meetings with staff at every level, from nurses to physicians to the CEO, if possible. “We make sure that they visit with everyone they need to so they can make an informed decision and get a good feel for the practice.”
Silver adds that the hospital leadership isn’t afraid to get hands-on during the recruiting process and site visit. “We have great leadership support, so they take time to meet with every single candidate we have, and that makes a huge difference.”
Include the whole family
During the site visit, the hospital also creates an itinerary for the physician’s spouse. The hospital tries to discover the spouse’s interests and then crafts a community tour around those things, whether it’s outdoor recreation, sports, gyms, schools, or cultural offerings. “We just read our audience and then cater accordingly,” says Silver.
“If there are any events going on while they’re here, we always offer them tickets,” she says. It’s just another way to help them envision living in Rapid City.
“We have a list of other physician spouses that have relocated here or are just really involved, and they are happy to help. While the physician is here interviewing, the spouse will go to lunch with another physician’s spouse,” she says. It creates an immediate connection.
That concentrated focus on the physician and their family leads to a jam-packed but effective site visit. “Often, it will only take one site visit for them to make their decision, and they leave their first trip here feeling like they know the practice and know what the opportunity is,” Silver says.
Look beyond compensation
Most hospitals simply can’t throw money at candidates to entice them. Rural nonprofit hospitals in particular face real constraints around what they can offer. But there are incentives that go beyond compensation that can appeal to physicians.
“A lot of our clients are getting creative with what is important to the provider, like student debt repayment and sign-on bonuses,” explains Cindy Slagle, senior director of business development for Weatherby Healthcare. “One approach is to use incentives based on the provider’s performance. It allows them to be recognized and incentivized for creating a great patient experience and receiving high marks on all the quality metrics that the hospital is tracking.”
Cover the gaps
Recruiting a physician is a time-consuming process in the best of circumstances.
“If your candidate needs to obtain a license, it could take six, nine, or even 12 months before you can have a provider ready to give their 90-day notice to the current employer. Often times when a provider is ready to sign a contract, they have to get licensed with the state board, privileged with the hospital, and credentialed with the payers. It becomes a lengthy process,” Slagle says.
Using locum tenens physicians in the meantime is a good way to relieve recruiting pressure, so the hospital can focus on bringing on the right candidate — not just the most available candidate.
“Locums is an option that allows health systems to cover that gap, and in some cases even find a talented doctor who would be interested in transitioning from locums to a permanent contract,” says Slagle.
Silver agrees that locum tenens providers are a valuable resource for the overall recruiting efforts of the hospital. “Our goal as a whole is to reduce locums usage, but we are also realistic in knowing that we will always use locums. That’s just the nature of our practice and where we are with our needs,” she says.
“It’s really helped us to use Weatherby,” Silver adds. “We’ve gotten to know the process and have a great relationship with Weatherby so when we do need locums, it’s a pretty easy process. It makes it as painless as possible so that — as we always say — ‘we can get to our real job,’ which is recruiting permanent full-time physicians to live and work here.”
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