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Recruit and Retain the Perfect Physician

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, October 21, 2009

Hiring the right physician to work in your practice for the long haul can be daunting, especially if you’re replacing a successful partner who is retiring or if your practice has a high turnover rate. Before you write a job description or call any candidates for an interview, take the time to create a detailed plan for effective and sustainable physician recruitment and retention.

Determine your need
The first step in the recruiting process is determining why you need to hire a new physician. It may sound simple and obvious, but it is something that requires a lot of thought.

“A good sourcing strategy is a necessary piece of the puzzle for physician searches,” writes Kay B. Stanley, FACMPE, vice president of Coker Group in Atlanta, in its Crafting a Sustainable Model for Physician Recruitment and Retention white paper. “It begins with determining what type of people you need and then deciding the best way to reach them.”

Just because a physician retires doesn’t necessarily mean your practice needs to hire a new doctor. It’s important to consider your practice’s finances and determine whether hiring a new doctor makes sense.

“You need to look at it from a financial perspective and ask, ‘Are we going to be able to manage it and get an appropriate return on investment?’ ” says Craig Hunter, senior vice president at Coker Group. “Then start looking at whether it is going to be the same specialty, a different specialty, what are the parameters, if there is an income guarantee from a hospital, and if you’re going to recruit on your own.”

Once you’ve decided that you absolutely need to hire a new physician, create a timeline for hiring and decide how you’re going to go about the recruiting process. Most practices use some combination of recruitment firms, professional organizations, networking, or job postings.

Emphasize your strengths
Drafting a strong recruitment strategy is critical because physician recruitment is highly competitive.

“The existing and anticipated shortfall of physicians has already created stiff competition among healthcare providers across geographic locations,” Stanley writes. “The competition is especially heated for cardiologists, gastroenterologists, and oncologists because fewer new practitioners are coming into the system. Meanwhile, millions of aging baby boomers require predictable needs for specialty medical care as they reach their 50s and 60s. The competition, therefore, is on the local, state, and national level, as specialists can expect to receive hundreds of offers.”

Because of this intense competition among practices, you should create a detailed outline that includes the strongest aspects of your practice that you can list in a job posting or explain in an interview. The following are possible highlights:

  • Your geographic area
  • Work-life balance
  • Compensation
  • Benefits package
  • Practice expertise
  • Practice size
  • Practice diversity
  • Awards or other recognition

“Because of stiff competition, you must present your practice opportunity favorably, responding to the physician’s prospective needs and presenting a longer-term view of what the practice and the community offer,” Stanley writes. “During the next several years, there will be important trends in the medical industry that will affect the careers and future earning power of most physicians practicing in the United States. In order to maximize their fullest potential, physicians will have these trends in mind before entering the job market. Adequate compensation is certainly one component, but clinical autonomy and control over their time and work environment tend to be more important over the long term. As younger physicians move into the medical industry, expect quality of life to become an increasing consideration.”

Recruit to retain
Throughout the recruiting process, keep in mind that you’re looking for a physician who will stay with your practice for many years. If your organization has had a problem with high turnover for physicians, you need to determine the reason and come up with a solution before you begin recruiting.

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