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6 Secrets to Rural Physician Recruitment Success

Jackson Physician Search
June 12, 2024

Rural hospitals and healthcare organizations face mounting physician recruiting challenges. The latest data from AAMC suggests that 20% of the American population lives in rural areas, but only 11% of physicians practice there — and that percentage may be shrinking since a disproportionate number of rural physicians are retiring and fewer graduating medical students are seeking jobs in rural areas. As rural organizations feel the impact of the worsening physician shortage, people in rural communities have increasing health needs, so finding providers is essential. 

While the need is urgent, rural organizations typically manage tighter budgets. They may be hesitant to hire a recruitment partner, attempting instead to fill the position independently — often with less time and resources to be successful. In reality, the longer the position is open, the more revenue is lost. While there are costs involved with a physician recruitment partner, the improved time-to-fill with Jackson Physician Search means the vacancy is shorter; thus, the revenue lost is lower. 

Alternatively, hiring organizations may have used another firm in the past that sourced a candidate who accepted the job (and recruitment incentives) only to leave within the year. This scenario may cause the hiring organization to question if they can trust any recruitment firm to find a physician who will be a good long-term fit.

Finding Success in Rural Physician Recruitment

These concerns are legitimate. However, as the vacancy drags on with little to no activity, this is often when rural healthcare organizations invite the Jackson Physician Search recruitment team into the process. We visit the community, tour the facility, and get to know the stakeholders to fully understand the role’s requirements — both clinically and culturally. Once we know who we are looking for, we launch a  100% digital marketing strategy designed to quickly cast a net nationwide while honing in on candidates with ties to the area.

This is the basic formula for Jackson Physician Search’s rural recruitment success, with other rural recruitment strategies leveraged as needed. However, each rural physician placement typically has something else in common, too. This article will highlight the most common themes found in our rural physician recruitment success stories. By examining these individual success stories, we aim to provide valuable insights into what works in attracting and retaining doctors in rural areas, ultimately improving healthcare access for those who need it most.

Rural Recruiting Secret #1: Access and Skilled Usage of Physician Databases 

Most rural organizations prefer to hire candidates with ties to the area who are likely to plant roots in the community long-term, which correlates with higher retention rates. However, finding those candidates requires casting a wide net, something most rural organizations don’t have the tools to do. The recruiters at Jackson Physician Search have access to multiple national databases of physicians and are power users of these tools, not to mention the largest opted-in database of candidates at their fingertips as well. They know precisely how to search and navigate their vast network to find who they are looking for. 

An FM-OB Resident from Kansas
A rural Kansas hospital needed to hire an FM-OB to replace a beloved departing member of the team. Senior Search Consultant Sonya Cathey knew Kansas incentivized residents with loan repayment assistance if they would remain in the state after residency. So, she leveraged Doximity, the largest online network of physicians and residents, to hone in on second-year FM-OB residents in Kansas. She then used the trusted DocMail service to reach out individually to each one about the job. Dr. W expressed interest, noting her passion for the care she would provide and her strong connection to the area. In addition to growing up only 30 minutes away, the position was near her fiancé’s hometown and, thus, ideal. Read More

Rural Recruiting Secret #2: Creativity 

Having a clear idea of who you are looking for is necessary, but it benefits everyone to keep an open mind about who could deliver the appropriate care and how they might do it. The recruiters at Jackson Physician Search often provide the unique perspective needed to see possibilities where others might not. Whether this means getting creative about the responsibilities of the job to make it more attractive or suggesting another specialist or advanced practice provider (or combination of the two) could also do the job, keeping an open mind about the role and how it might be filled is essential for rural physician recruitment success.

3 FM-OBs in Iowa
Director of Recruiting Katie Moeller was tasked with finding an OB-GYN for a rural Iowa hospital when they came to her with two additional needs — an Internal Medicine physician and a Family Medicine physician. She was aware the average time to fill any of these specialties in a rural location was likely upwards of a year, so she proposed a new idea based on a trend she saw in the market an increase in the number of FM-OBs coming out of training. Katie proposed that FM-OBs could offer patients the same type and level of care as the original specialties they sought. The client agreed, and the OB-GYN on staff decided to mentor them. The client signed three newly trained FM-OBs in less than a month. Read More

Rural Physician Recruiting Secret #3: Market Insight

A comprehensive understanding of the market — both nationally and regionally — drives everything our recruiters do. In the aforementioned stories, Sonya was familiar with Kansas and knew the state offered loan assistance to medical residents; Katie observed an uptick in FM-OBs coming into the market. Knowing the market always plays a part, but when it comes to compensation, a recruiter plugged into the immediate market is essential.

Gastroenterologist in Illinois
When Senior Search Consultant Cori Centerino took over a stagnant search at a small town hospital in Illinois, she immediately suspected the low compensation was the primary obstacle to attracting candidates. After presenting the CEO with industry compensation reports as well as recent salary info for GI placements at local competitors, the CEO agreed to an increase in base salary and a significant signing bonus. Within days of updating the listing, she had multiple candidates for the position, one of which turned out to be a perfect fit. Read More

Rural Recruiting Secret #4: Know When to Pivot

As mentioned, rural physician recruiting requires clients to keep an open mind; part of that is knowing when to pivot. This doesn’t mean settling for less than your patients deserve but recognizing when a change is needed to give patients the care they need. That change may be, as in the case of Katie’s client in Iowa, hiring a different type of physician than they planned. For Cori’s client in Illinois, it was accepting that a change to the compensation was needed. For another rural client in Montana, being open to hiring a less experienced physician than initially desired was the beneficial change.

A PM&R Physician in Montana
Director of Recruiting Misha Fabick was tasked with finding an experienced physician to lead a new pain management and rehab program at a rural Montana orthopedic group. Despite the limited candidate pool, Misha’s skilled use of the Profiles database allowed her to find Dr. C, a PM&R specialist from Montana, who was completing his training in Dallas. Although Dr. C was newly trained, his ties to the area and the competence he had developed in a fellowship convinced Misha that the client should meet him. They kept an open mind and ultimately agreed with Misha that he was the ideal candidate for the job. Read More

Rural Recruiting Secret #5: Immerse Candidates in the Community

Accepting a rural physician job means relocating to a new community that is often smaller and more remote than physicians (and their families) are used to. Clients who understand the importance of selling the community, as well as the organization, are the ones most likely to find success. What do they do differently? A community tour with a realtor is a must, but a dinner or happy hour with colleagues at a local restaurant or brewery is equally important. Our success stories feature clients who go above and beyond even this, finding out what activities the physician and family are interested in — hiking, skiing, fishing, golfing, etc. — and arranging an activity based on those interests.

Family Medicine Physician in South Dakota
When Senior Search Consultant Don Evans connected with a Washington-based physician about a Family Medicine job in rural South Dakota, he knew location might be a challenge. The candidate liked the idea of lower patient volumes and less stress, but he wasn’t sure his family would be on board with a move to a small, remote town. The clinic leaders stepped up, planning an excursion for the physician and rolling out the red carpet for his wife and children. Ultimately, the family fell in love with the town and were excited about the big move. Read More

Rural Physician Recruitment Secret #6: Act Quickly

When our team presents a qualified applicant for a rural physician job, our partners who act quickly — reaching out by phone and setting up on-site interviews as soon as the candidate’s schedule allows — are most likely to be successful. They understand that physicians are applying to multiple organizations, and if the recruitment process takes too long, the physician isn’t likely to still be available. Of course, this is true for our clients in any location — rural, urban, or suburban — but no “secrets to recruiting” list would be complete without mentioning the importance of acting with urgency. Without exception, every rural physician recruitment success story features a hiring organization that worked quickly and kept the recruitment process moving. 

As the need for physicians intensifies in rural areas, rural healthcare organizations must do far more than post a job if they hope to recruit physicians and other healthcare providers successfully. As a trusted rural physician recruitment partner, Jackson Physician Search supports our rural clients with access to physicians nationwide through various job boards and our largest opted-in database, creative solutions, and up-to-date market insights. The clients who consistently see success with this support have several things in common: they know when to pivot, they immerse candidates in the community, and they react swiftly when presented with a candidate they like. Rural physician recruiting may continue to grow more challenging, but organizations that consistently leverage these secrets will find the providers their communities so desperately need.

If you are facing a difficult rural physician or APP search, reach out to the recruitment team at Jackson Physician Search today to learn more about our rural physician recruitment strategies and how we can support your efforts. Contact us today.

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