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Finding the Why: Consider Generational Differences to Improve Rural Physician Recruitment Results

Jackson Physician Search
March 9, 2022

Rural healthcare organizations saw an early “silver lining” from the global pandemic in that an increasing number of physicians, burned out and exhausted by the stress of COVID-19, expressed interest in rural physician jobs. In the Jackson Physician Search whitepaper on how COVID changed the physician job market, several recruitment leaders noted the influx of physicians seeking jobs in small towns, expressing a desire to be closer to family or to find what they hoped would be a slower pace of life.  

Physicians seek jobs in rural medicine for a number of different reasons, and a new Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey from Jackson Physician Search and suggests those differences often fall along generational lines. By discovering what each generation is likely attracted to about rural medicine, rural healthcare organizations can capitalize on the surge of interest and more effectively market to physician candidates at every stage of life.  

Best Practices in Generational Targeting  

Marketers have long used generational targeting to strategically engage with consumers in every age demographic. While caution is needed when making broad generalizations, where the data shows similarities, savvy marketers will target their messaging to appeal to that segment.   

It follows that marketing physician jobs to specific generations, where the data shows similarities, could be a savvy physician recruitment tactic. So, what does the data say about what each generation wants in a rural job? The JPS and survey explores the employment needs and wants of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millenials in an attempt to answer this question.  

Approaching Retirement, Baby Boomers Seek Flexibility & Patient-focused Culture

At 63, Dr. T knows retirement is just around the corner, and yet, as much as his wife would like him to retire, he doesn’t feel quite ready. Of course, he’s tired of long hours at the hospital and speeding through patient visits, but if he could find a job that would allow him to scale back his caseload, maybe even work part-time, he thinks he and his wife could both be happy–for another 5 years at least.  

Nearly half (48%) of all Baby Boomers will retire in fewer than five years, and another third will retire in six to ten. Physicians of this generation have worked 30+ years, adapted to multiple phases of healthcare reform, and now endured a global pandemic. It’s fair to say, they are ready to slow down–though not necessarily retire. In fact, 44% say the ability to work part-time or have flexible hours would motivate them to stay at their current organization for another five years. But what would they need to consider a rural physician job? 

Interestingly, Baby Boomer physicians are most likely to already practice rural medicine. Many chose the opportunity because of the flexibility and the opportunity to spend more time with patients. The desire to work for a patient-focused organization is strongest with this generation, and the perception that rural physician jobs allow more time with individual patients is part of the draw.  The ability to work fewer hours–or perhaps part-time–is also attractive for physicians wanting to ease into retirement. 

Tips for Recruiting Baby Boomers: 

Does your rural position come with flexible hours? Is your organization focused on the patient? Assuming the answer to both questions is “yes,” promote these facts at every stage of the recruitment process–highlight it in the physician job posting, discuss it during the phone interview, and have the physicians they meet during the on-site visit reinforce these qualities by sharing stories of their own flexible schedules and quality interactions with patients.     

Gen Xers Want Better Personal and Professional Fulfillment

For Dr. M, retirement is still a distant idea–a finish line at the end of a still-long road ahead. She took a job with her current employer six years ago when they made an offer she couldn’t refuse. But now, at 49, she’s not sure the competitive compensation is enough to justify the long hours, demanding patients, and constant stress. With two kids in college, she can’t afford an early retirement, but unless something changes, she’s not sure she’ll last another 15 years.

The JPS and survey found Gen X physicians to be the least fulfilled–both professionally and personally. They’ve spent the better part of their lives pursuing a medical career, and now, as their children begin to leave the nest and they consider the next phase of their lives, they may be second-guessing what it was all for. They may question the impact they’ve had on their patients and wonder if they could have chosen a path with greater influence. Or perhaps they imagine who they might have been if they had made time to pursue other interests–and wonder if it’s not too late to try. 

There could be many reasons to explain Gen X’s lack of fulfillment, but the “why” is less important than the “what” they can do about it. Rural physician jobs typically offer higher levels of physician autonomy, improved work-life balance, and more time with patients–all factors likely to improve physician job satisfaction and fulfillment. Of course, with kids in college or nearing college age, competitive compensation is still a must, and rural medicine ticks this box as well. 

Tips for Recruiting Generation X:

If your rural physician job offers a healthy work-life balance, physician autonomy, and competitive compensation, emphasize these qualities at every interaction with candidates. As you learn more about a candidate’s professional goals and personal hobbies, help them envision a life in your community where they can both make an impact professionally and still have time to explore personal interests. 

Family-focused Millennials Need Work-Life Balance 

Hired out of fellowship by his current employer, Dr. J and his wife, also a physician, work long hours for their respective organizations. While they have been mostly happy these past four years, they know their current schedules won’t be sustainable when they start a family. Still, with double the student loan debt of most couples, they can’t afford for one of them to go part-time. They are willing to make some big changes in order to create the life they want for their future family, but will they consider rural medicine? 

It won’t take decades of working long hours for Millennials to recognize the value of work-life balance. In fact, they place more importance on work-life balance than any other generation. They have grown up with messaging about the importance of self-care, and as a result, they aren’t afraid to prioritize their own mental health. That said, the weight of student loan debt is heavy on this generation, and they can still be swayed by big bonuses or the promise of loan repayment.

Rural physician jobs may be the answer to Millennial physicians’ desires for a healthy work-life balance, flexibility, a family-friendly community, and of course, competitive compensation. An opportunity that also presents leadership opportunities and promises them a voice in the decision-making process is likely to keep them there long-term.  

Tips for Recruiting Millennials:

Millennials are most likely to be in an active job search, so find ways to connect with them online through social media and email. Emphasize the healthy work-life balance the job allows, and help them imagine a life in your family-friendly community. Keep in mind that nearly 1 in 5 Millennial physicians is married to another physician, so get creative in thinking about how a physician spouse might fit into your organization or that of a neighboring community.

Putting Generational Targeting Into Practice

It’s likely your rural physician job has attributes that would appeal to all three generations. So, should you choose a few to emphasize and focus on targeting one demographic? Only if you want to limit your candidate pool! The better option is to partner with a national physician recruitment firm with a vast database of physicians of every age and specialty. At Jackson Physician Search, we are able to create multiple versions of a single job posting to target specific segments of the physician audience. The digital marketing magic doesn’t stop there. Through social networks, email, and paid advertising, our search consultants and marketers ensure the physicians you want to reach notice the parts of your job that they’ll find most attractive–and most likely to persuade them to apply. 

Still not sure how generational physician recruiting works? Contact a JPS Search consultant today and they’ll be happy to share more. 

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