Rural Healthcare Facing Mounting Physician Recruitment Challenges

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Rural healthcare organizations are facing ever-mounting financial, recruitment and patient care challenges in the “new normal.” Fortunately, the next wave of financial help is on the way. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced last week that $4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds were being released to safety-net hospitals, with $1 billion of that for 500 specialty rural hospitals, urban hospitals with certain rural designations from Medicare, as well as hospitals in smaller metro areas. HHS approximates that payments will range from $100,000 to $4.5 million for rural designated providers.

Clearly, this is good news for rural health facilities that are facing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, many of which were already financially struggling. Financial concerns aside, proper staffing planning is also key to providing adequate access to care, so the key going forward will be for rural healthcare administrators to continue to find innovative ways to attract physicians to their facilities. Let’s frame the issues impacting rural physician recruitment and outline a few strategies for success.

Physician Shortage Predicted to be More Extreme than Previous Estimates

The annual report published by the Association for American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has been highlighting the growing shortage of physicians, and the most recent numbers show the situation worsening. According to AAMC, the healthcare industry is facing a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. Typical for these annual reports, Primary Care physicians are still seeing the most significant deficits with shortages up to 55,200, while surgical specialty shortages are expected to reach 28,700 over the next decade.

Further, as highlighted in the Jackson Physician Search The Realities of Physician Retirement Survey, up to 33% of practicing physicians are nearing or at retirement age. The stress and unknown elements surrounding the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the desire for many physicians to consider pursuing an early full or partial retirement.

Typically, when people retire, they seek a quieter lifestyle that provides them with a chance to stretch out and enjoy the life they have worked so hard to build. Not surprisingly, 44% of physicians who responded to the survey stated that lifestyle is the main driver of their retirement decision.

On top of that, 30% of physicians say that they are planning to work full- or part-time somewhere else. Consider ways to create those opportunities for pre-retirement physicians who are looking to slow down. While it may seem counter-intuitive, now could be the perfect time to lure physicians out of the chaotic urban and metro centers, and into a more laid-back and lifestyle-friendly rural environment.

Physicians Value Culture Fit

A common theme from physicians in today’s climate is how important organization culture and fit are in job satisfaction. Physicians that feel engaged in the work and have shared values with the organization are happier, more productive, and less susceptible to suffer feelings of burnout. The same proves true for community fit. In a Jackson Physician Search Rural Physician Recruitment Survey, physicians said community culture fit was more important than compensation when choosing to practice in a rural community. Dig into the Rural Survey for additional key findings to improve your recruitment success.

Rural health system administrators should be aggressively recruiting physician candidates now if their 2020-21 staffing planning requires more providers. At any given point in time, as many as 75% of physicians are passively exploring their career options. This means that they may not be actively applying to job opportunities, but they are more than willing to listen if something catches their attention. Reaching these passive candidates is critical for rural health systems, and now more than ever, the best way to reach physician candidates is via a well-conceived digital recruitment strategy.

Spend Time in the Digital World

Armed with the knowledge that overwhelming numbers support the fact that physicians, like most Americans, are extremely active on social media, Rural health system recruiters should have a strategy to meet physician candidates where they are – online. The American College of Physicians claims that over 70% of physicians are on Doximity, and over 30% are using social media for their professional networking.

Here are a few tips for using SEARCH as a framework for your digital recruitment strategy:

  • Segment – Instead of pushing out messaging content for the sake of it, target physicians who may not only be interested in your message but have the skillset you need, and are a cultural fit for your organization.
  • Engage – Here is where a rural system can shine. Publish content that highlights your brand and illustrates a sense of community that engages physicians, their peers, and colleagues.
  • Authentic – Make sure your digital outreach conveys a voice and tone that speaks to the culture you have built. Staying true to that consistent tone builds the foundation for physicians to be able to understand who you are and the values you espouse.
  • Relevant – Any digital content that you publish should be planned and well thought out to make it something relatable and important to your target audience.
  • Credible – Another way to set your rural health system or facility apart is by infusing credibility into your messaging. Create reasons why candidates would want to become a part of your organization by promoting your mission, values, and community value.
  • Habit – Cultivating a digital presence does not mean one and done. You could publish a piece of content that creates an “a-Ha” moment for your audience, but then if you disappear for six weeks, you have lost their engagement. Maximizing the digital opportunity is much like growing a vegetable garden. You don’t have to work on it every day, but if you don’t tend to it regularly enough, you will never experience the fruits of your labor.

The key is knowing that physicians are willing to listen, and now it is a matter of reaching them with your message.  If your rural health system needs support in developing or executing a digital recruitment strategy, consider partnering with the healthcare recruitment professionals at Jackson Physician Search. Our decades of experience has afforded us the ability to maintain a nationwide pool of candidates and to develop the technology and tools to help you fill your most challenging vacancies.

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