Healthcare Facilities

4 strategies for recruiting physicians to rural communities

Physician hired through rural healthcare recruiting

Recruiting physicians for rural healthcare organizations has never been a walk in the park. Many physicians prefer the excitement and culture that are perceived to be more available in urban locations. But rural communities also have a lot to offer — from a high quality of life to unique practice opportunities. The challenge is getting the message out to physicians who are open-minded in their job search. Here are four strategies that can support your rural healthcare recruiting efforts.

1. Create a formal recruitment plan

The COVID-19 pandemic hit rural facilities particularly hard, with many providers heading for the exits. Some rural facilities came perilously close to being shuttered due to staffing shortages.

“Rural providers have been dealing with workforce shortages for generations,” says Brock Slabach, chief operations officer for the National Rural Health Association. “What is new now is the level of acuity. What was a problem before has now become almost catastrophic in some cases.”

To really tackle the problem in a systemic way, Slabach suggests rural healthcare organizations clearly define their recruiting goals and determine what obstacles they need to overcome to reach them. Creating an overarching plan is a step that is sometimes overlooked in the headlong rush to fill provider roles.

“It’s important to understand up front what it’s going to take to make you successful,” Slabach says.

2. Identify and promote your strengths

Rural communities can’t always offer the amenities of a large, urban center, but every community has its advantages — whether they’re recreational opportunities, a better work/life balance, or the chance to care for underserved populations.

The key is to pinpoint your community’s assets, to “really look at the total scope of what you’re offering as a community,” Slabach says.

To help with this process, Slabach recommends using a scoring system developed by Dr. David Schmitz of the University of North Dakota. This Community APGAR scoring system considers factors such as geography, economics, scope of responsibility, job description, administrator support, resources to get the job done, hospital community, and institutional support. And the underlying metrics are scored by an outside evaluator.

“The final evaluation identifies your community strengths and weaknesses and provides steps you can take to overcome challenges,” Slabach says. “Truly understanding what makes your community and your healthcare organization unique can help you target your recruiting efforts to those who will be most attracted to the opportunity.”

Older rural patient and doctor

3. Leverage loan forgiveness and other government programs

During the pandemic, Congress appropriated additional funds for the National Health Service Corps that will pay some or all of a provider’s student loan debt if he or she works in a healthcare professional shortage area. These funds can be an effective way to attract physicians and advanced practice providers to your community — especially early career providers with medical school debt.

“They’ve expanded the offerings of who’s eligible,” Slabach says. “Now advanced practice providers are able to get loan repayment program money, for example, and they’ve increased the dollars that are available to individuals who are seeking to locate in a rural area in exchange for loan repayment benefits.”

Another government program that received additional funding during the pandemic is graduate medical education in rural areas. “This allows more providers in training to spend some or all of their graduate medical education in a rural place, which is really exciting because it provides individuals an opportunity to stay rural rather than go to an urban center to get the training they need.”

4. Take advantage of virtual recruiting tools

Rural healthcare recruiting has typically involved a lot of travel for candidates, which can be time consuming and costly for healthcare organizations. The widespread adoption of virtual interviewing has made this process easier for candidates and organizations alike.

While virtual platforms won’t completely eliminate onsite interviews, Slabach points out virtual interviews can help weed out candidates before you go to the effort and expense of bringing them onsite. For executives, onsite visits can eat up “two days’ worth of non-stop entertaining and interviewing,” he says. In-person interviews and onsite visits are “extremely important to the organization, so it’s a vital process. It’s just that electronic convening can really speed up some of the pre- and post-visit conversations.”

With a mounting physician shortage, recruiting physicians to rural healthcare isn’t going to get easier. But following these strategies can help you leverage your strengths and increase the attractiveness of your location.

Weatherby Healthcare has the locum tenens physicians and advanced practice providers to help you meet your healthcare staffing needs. Give us a call at 954.343.3050 to learn more.

About the author

Heather Stewart

Heather Stewart is a journalist who frequently covers issues and trends in the healthcare industry.

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