One key component of physician satisfaction is how responsive hospital administrators are to physicians' ideas and needs. Rural hospitals tend to excel in this aspect of physician relations, which is probably one of the main reasons why doctors in rural areas had the highest satisfaction rates when compared to physicians in other regions, according to Press Ganey Association's 2008 Hospital Check-Up Report: Physician Perspectives on American Hospitals.
Even though rural areas can claim the most satisfied docs compared to other locales, rural America still probably has the most difficulty recruiting physicians and keeping them past the three- to five-year commitment often required by the J1-Visa program or student-loan reimbursement programs. Today's physicians not only want a responsive administration and ease in delivering high-quality care, but they also want state-of-the-art facilities, limited on-call time, and access to the arts and sporting events (without an hour drive), among other items. With physician shortages plaguing the nation, doctors can pretty much choose where they want to go—and unless they were raised in a small town, many aren't choosing America's heartland.
Exposing first- and second-year medical school students to rural medicine is one of the ways the healthcare industry is trying to increase the number of physicians choosing to practice in a rural area. I come across an increasing number of mentoring programs that link med students to rural docs or medical schools adding rural hospitals to students' clinical rotations. Some states have programs that highlight the professional careers offered in small towns in the hopes that more young people will choose to work where they grew up. For instance, Virginia has the “Return to Roots” program, which lists job openings—including healthcare positions—on its Web site. Postcards promoting the Web site are mailed to high school and college graduates from the area.
Sixty-three percent of physician recruiters say they are working more with resident and fellowship programs and shifting more of their emphasis to online venues, according to a survey of physician recruiters by LocumTenens.com this past spring. (Thirty percent of the recruiters surveyed represented rural areas with populations less than 50,000, and 44% percent came from small cities or suburban areas with populations between 50,000 and 250,000.) The survey also noted that physician recruiters were hiring additional in-house staff—83% of respondents were employed by hospitals or health systems. That's not always an option, however, for many cash-strapped rural facilities.
Still, rural administrators may want to expand their budget for conferences and other networking events. These events—often located at pricey hotels—are not always viewed as the best use of a rural hospital's resources. But physician recruiters ranked networking as the second most effective tool to recruit docs, according to the survey. The most effective physician recruitment tools were:
I often hear rural leaders wishing that they had more opportunities to network with their peers and share best practices. Now, I can't tell you what events you should or shouldn't be attending. But if the event can help you fill a physician vacancy, I'd say it would be well worth the investment.