Recruiting Doctors Amid a Physician Shortage

Healthcare Staffing Experts Share Keys to Successful Physician Search

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In an increasingly competitive physician hiring market, how can you ensure that you will attract, recruit, and retain the doctors you need to serve your patients? As an administrator of a medical practice, or an executive at a hospital, physician recruitment can often be one of the greatest challenges you will face.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts a severe physician shortage that could range from 40,800 to 104,900 lacking physicians, as of 2030.

 Some medical specialties will be much harder hit than others. For example, primary care is projected to feel the most significant squeeze in the coming years. Internists and family medicine physicians are already becoming more highly competitive to recruit, with salaries and signing bonuses increasing across the board.

In addition to the varied supply and demand based on medical specialty, geography is also a factor in the physician shortage. Some regions and communities will suffer more severe shortages than others. For example, according to the AAMC, the states with the lowest ratio of physicians to people are Mississippi, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Arkansas. Conversely, the states with the highest ratio of physicians per 100,000 people are Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Vermont, and Rhode Island.

No matter where you are recruiting physicians, chances are at some point you will have to fill a position that is considered very difficult to fill.

Here are a few tips as to how to ensure that you are able to hire the physicians you need to serve your patient community.

Plan Ahead—Define the Need

Experts agree that preparation and planning are paramount for successful physician recruiting, especially in a shortage area or specialty. "Healthcare administrators should not wait until the hiring need is critical or urgent to begin the search process," states Craig Fowler, vice president of recruiting and marketing for Pinnacle Health Group, a physician recruiting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia.

 He adds that a comprehensive, professional medical staff plan can help project growth and potential turnover to allow the health system's executive team to prepare accordingly for the recruiting efforts, and formulate an effective strategy.

Furthermore, Fowler adds that "verifying the need" for a physician goes beyond identifying demand and a patient base. "Healthcare employers must also define the need in terms of the type of candidate they need, who would fit best in the culture and environment of the healthcare system." Fowler explains that, if possible, other physicians should be included in the planning stage, as well as the actual recruitment activities. "All of the incoming physician's future colleagues need to be 'singing off the same sheet of music' in terms of how they practice medicine, how they run their practices, and how they manage everything from patient documentation, to billing and coding, to the office dress code."

Sense of Urgency

According to professional physician recruiters, acting with a strong sense of urgency throughout the interview process is also an important and effective tactic for successful physician recruiting. "Move candidates through the recruiting process as quickly as possible," advised Steve Look, executive vice president of recruiting for The Medicus Firm, a physician search firm based in Dallas, Texas.

"There should not be a long lag time that leaves the candidate waiting, from the initial contact with the physician, to the phone interview, to the on-site interview, and then to a formal offer."

Fowler agrees that dragging the process out is a common mistake among healthcare employers, which goes back to his original emphasis on planning and preparation. "If the interview and recruiting process has been thoughtfully and carefully planned in advance, it enables employers to act swiftly on candidates of interest, and prevent competing employers from snagging candidates out from under you."

Furthermore, recruiters recommend evaluating each candidate independently and of their own merit, as opposed to scheduling a slate of interviews and then ranking or comparing candidates.

"Employers hiring physicians don't have the luxury of time or a large enough candidate pool to expect to schedule numerous interviews and then hire one at the very end. If you do that, you will lose the initial candidates you interviewed to competing employers, because the first candidates who interviewed will get tired of waiting on your decision, while other employers are knocking down their door," Mr. Fowler states.

Competitive Physician Compensation Package and Executable Contract

During the research and planning phase, healthcare employers should pay close attention to the compensation trends for the physician specialty they are recruiting. While there may be slight variations in physician compensation by region, employers have to be competitive on a national level when recruiting physicians that are experiencing a workforce shortage.

Physician compensation data is provided by a variety of professional associations, media, and recruiting firms. Reliable sources for physician compensation information are the Medical Group Management Association, (MGMA), Medscape, and Modern Healthcare magazine, which publishes an annual physician compensation issue every summer.

In addition to composing an attractive income package, physician search experts agree that the contract should be already intact, prior to interviewing a physician. The contract should be complete and ready to extend to a candidate for execution. Otherwise, waiting on the contract to be finalized after the physician interviews allows additional time for your candidate of choice to be wooed away by a competitor.

Roll Out the Red Carpet for the Physician Interview

The on-site interview must have a "wow" factor, and should appeal to the physician as well as his or her family members who will relocate with the candidate upon employment. "Employers must 'court' the physician's spouse and arrange a customized agenda for him or her, in addition to the physician's," states Jason Farr, senior vice president of The Medicus Firm.

Personal touches and details that can appeal to the physician and family's personal needs as well as professional aspects are helpful in making your opportunity stand out. Even though physicians know that their services are in great demand, they want to really feel that they will be truly wanted and valued in a new practice opportunity.

Before the interview, be sure to speak with the spouse and understand his or her needs, professionally and personally, and deliver those touches on the interview—whether it's a visit to a favorite boutique, a ballgame, a park, recreational activity, or club, going above and beyond to put together a personalized site visit will make a lasting impact on the physician and family.

Be Creative and Proactive

Many employers are reaching out to residents and fellows well before their final year of training, according to Farr. To get the doctor you need, you will have to plan ahead and be able to offer future doctors an incentive to sign on with your practice well in advance. "Offering an educational stipend to residents and fellows secures candidates early and prevent you from scrambling to sign on a new doctor at the last minute," Farr concludes.

Deploy Multiple Recruiting Resources

With the physician market being as competitive as it is today, employers have to pull out all the stops when recruiting, and utilize a variety of tools and resources available to them today. There are many options, all requiring various levels of investment and commitment. Some of the resources and services include:

  • Medical Conferences and Career Fairs
  • Hiring or adding a full-time dedicated in-house physician recruiter
  • Online physician job boards
  • Candidate sourcing / Lead generation firms
  • Marketing / Advertising (email, direct mail, etc.)
  • Professional associations
  • Third-party healthcare recruiting firms

Physician recruiting is an "all hands on deck" scenario—you can never have too many resources, as long as they are all being appropriately managed and optimized for success. Successful healthcare staffing depends on implementing a streamlined, efficient, and multi-faceted strategy that is carefully planned in advance, and deliberately executed.

Troubleshooting

One more tip: use candidate feedback wisely. Consider the source, and take into account what candidates are saying about your opportunity after hearing about it initially and after visiting it in person. By listening to physicians' feedback, especially after the interview, you can improve your recruiting process and make necessary tweaks to the interview agenda as well as the compensation package if needed. The first physician to interview for the job can be an extremely valuable asset if utilized properly. His or her feedback can really help you to step up your recruiting strategy accordingly.

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