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10 Strategies for Successful Rural Physician Recruitment

Jackson Physician Search
January 8, 2024

Recruiting physicians to rural and remote locations remains a significant challenge for rural healthcare organizations. According to the AAMC, 20% of the US population lives in rural areas, but only 11% of physicians work there – a percentage likely shrinking due to a projected increase in physician retirements. The AAMC estimates the number of practicing rural physicians will decrease by 25% by 2030. Additionally, the number of medical school students from rural areas is steadily declining, meaning the group most likely to practice in rural areas is shrinking. The situation may seem bleak, but there are things rural organizations can do to increase the likelihood of recruiting and retaining physicians. Keep reading to create an effective rural physician recruitment to-do list.

1. Promote the Positive

Of course, there are many benefits to practicing rural medicine. These may include a lower cost of living, a broader scope of practice, a sense of community, and professional growth and leadership opportunities. All of these are worth emphasizing in your recruitment marketing, but it’s also essential to identify what is uniquely attractive about your organization and community. Talk to your current providers about what attracted them to the job and area, and if applicable to others, highlight those qualities.

Emphasize the culture and flexibility of your organization, but just as important is showcasing the benefits of the community. Think about what makes your area special – from outdoor recreation and proximity to a university to quirky festivals, farmers’ markets, or local breweries. From the first interaction with candidates, start talking about the unique lifestyle benefits of your organization and community, and when the time comes, roll out the red carpet to showcase those qualities.

2. Offer Competitive Compensation 

No matter how charming the community or unique the opportunity, the job ad must highlight recruitment incentives and competitive compensation to attract candidates to rural and remote locations. Though rural healthcare leaders may be hesitant to attract physicians based on money, the reality is compensation is a top driver of physician job search decisions. If the numbers aren’t there, you won’t have the chance to showcase the other amazing qualities of your organization.

Consider offering signing bonuses, student loan repayment, and housing assistance to attract talent initially, and specify a schedule for retention bonuses to incentivize new hires to stay. Be transparent about the overall financial package, including base salary, bonuses, and benefits.   

3. Provide Professional Development Opportunities

Physicians in rural locations often practice at the top of their licenses since fewer specialists are nearby. Depending on the individual physician candidate, this can be both attractive and intimidating. Highlight the learning opportunity this presents while ensuring adequate support from mentors. Help candidates see the value of ongoing professional development opportunities available through your organization, such as specialized training, mentorship programs, or involvement in research projects. Identify potential physician leaders and, if possible, create a detailed path to leadership for future physician executives.

4. Establish Telemedicine Infrastructure

The COVID-19 pandemic sped up the adoption of telehealth across the nation, and according to a report from the Rural Health Information Hub, the implications for rural and remote areas are significant. Not only does telemedicine expand patient access, but a robust telemedicine infrastructure can also ease provider concerns about professional isolation. Invest in telemedicine and demonstrate to candidates how it can be leveraged to aid their professional development while increasing access and enhancing the quality of patient care.

5. Create Collaborative Healthcare Models

One common fear providers have about rural medicine is that they will be solely responsible for patients – constantly carrying the call burden and expected to be ready for an emergency at all times. Ease this concern by developing collaborative healthcare models that utilize advanced practice providers. The presence of APPs allows for more flexibility in scheduling, providing better work-life balance for all providers. A collaborative care team where everyone performs to the full extent of their training will free up physicians to focus attention where most needed, give advanced practice providers appropriate autonomy, and help to mitigate burnout among all providers, all while improving healthcare outcomes within a community. Physicians will be more inclined to work in rural areas if they can share responsibilities with other providers.

6. Build Supportive Community Partnerships

Forge partnerships with local communities, schools, and businesses to assist recruitment and retention efforts. Establishing a strong support network can help physicians and their families acclimate to the community quickly, making them more likely to stay long-term. Partnerships with nearby hospitals may result in additional resources to sweeten the compensation package. This was precisely what happened in a recent Jackson Physician Search physician placement success story. Knowing the addition of an orthopedic surgeon would benefit the local hospital, the CEO of the orthopedic group asked the hospital leadership if they could back a salary guarantee and help him close the deal. Because of their longstanding partnership, the hospital agreed, and shortly after, the physician accepted the offer.

7. Address Work-Life Balance

Recognize the importance of work-life balance and emphasize it in recruitment efforts. In a 2022 rural physician recruitment study from Jackson Physician Search and, 46% of rural physicians said “improved work-life balance” was one of the top factors influencing their decisions to work in rural medicine. The desire for a better quality of life is often why physicians are considering rural opportunities, so make sure a healthy work-life balance is a benefit you can genuinely promote. Typically, this means offering flexible schedules, job sharing, reduced on-call responsibilities, and reasonable work hours. However, the candidate’s needs might be different from these options. Ask what work-life balance looks like for them and get creative to make it happen.

8. Assist with J-1 Visa Waivers

International trainees who want to practice in the U.S. will need to find an employer to assist with a J-1 visa waiver, and highlighting a willingness to do this will attract more candidates. Expanding the candidate pool in this way can be extremely influential, especially when combined with a dedicated physician recruitment partner who takes the time to screen all of the applicants and select the one who is the best fit. This happened in a recent neurologist search for a Jackson Physician Search client in rural Minnesota. The client initially resisted offering the waiver but was thrilled with the results once they did.

9. Promote Loan Forgiveness Programs

Physicians leave training with an average of $200,000 in medical school loan debt, so loan repayment incentives are especially effective in attracting physician candidates to rural and remote areas. Collaborate with government agencies or private organizations to implement loan forgiveness programs for physicians willing to commit to a certain service period in rural or remote areas. While there is a chance these physicians leave once the service commitment is fulfilled, they may start building a life and decide this is exactly where they belong. Either way, their years of service will benefit patients in your community.

10. Utilize Social Media and Online Platforms

Leverage social media and online platforms to market rural opportunities. Highlight success stories of physicians who have thrived in rural settings, showcasing their positive impact on the community and their professional fulfillment. Partner with a recruiter with full access to Doximity, the largest online physician community, who can reach out directly to physicians with ties to your area. This strategy has proven successful for Jackson Physician Search recruiters with rural clients time and time again.

Recruiting physicians to rural and remote locations requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. The ten steps outlined here provide an excellent starting point for rural organizations trying to improve their recruitment efforts. By addressing concerns related to lifestyle, professional development, compensation, and community support, healthcare organizations can attract and retain physicians more effectively, ultimately expanding access and enhancing the quality of care in rural and remote locations.

If your rural health organization is starting a physician search, the team at Jackson Physician Search is eager to assist. We have a track record of rural physician recruitment success all over the country and can leverage our experience to enhance your efforts. Contact us today to learn more.

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