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Physician Recruiting: The Role of the CEO

Mark Smith, for HealthLeaders Media, May 16, 2008

To carry out their missions—and to maintain their financial viability—hospitals must ensure that they have the appropriate number and mix of physicians on their medical staffs. But the physician recruitment market has never been more competitive or complex thanks to the ever-growing list of service sites, problematic reimbursement, and an overall physician shortage. Finding and maintaining the appropriate physician mix is more time and resource intensive than it has ever been—but to what degree should the hospital’s chief executive officer be a part of the process?

CEOs cannot be directly involved in every stage of the process, but they also can’t take a completely hands-off approach. While delegating the legwork and logistics of recruiting, the CEO should:

Ensure a strategic framework is in place. Physician recruiting should not be an ad hoc endeavor initiated in reaction to an event such as a physician retirement or relocation. It should be a proactive process driven by an understanding of the hospital’s current medical staff and its projected needs.

The CEO should ensure that physician recruiters, medical directors, and others have a strategic basis for physician recruiting that is outlined in a formal medical staff plan. The plan should provide a portrait of the current staff, breaking down physicians by specialty, age, gender, and, through a medical staff survey, by practice characteristics, career plans and physician recruiting needs.

The staff plan provides a blueprint for current and projected staffing requirements. It also demonstrates to current medical staff through objective data the need to recruit additional physicians, addressing what can be a source of physician/hospital conflict.

During recruiting, the staff plan can help convince candidates that a real need exists for their specialty. The plan also serves as a compliance document since federal regulations require hospitals to justify their recruiting efforts on the basis of a demonstrable community need for new physicians.

Assemble the recruiting team. The CEO should assemble a medical staff development (MSD) committee to carry out the physician recruiting function. The MSD is charged with completing the medical staff plan or retaining a consultant to do so, creating physician retention programs, setting physician candidate parameters, developing incentive packages and contracts, sourcing candidates, reviewing CVs, conducting interviews, working with outside recruiting consultants, and assisting with candidate relocation.

The MSD typically will be comprised of five to 10 people, including a board member, a chief medical officer, in-house physician recruiters, and a mix of other hospital representatives such as the CFO and CNO, department heads and others. To be agile, the MSD must be able to vote with a quorum. The central figure on the committee, however, is the CEO, who is the final arbiter and decision maker regarding strategies, contracts, and candidates.

Create the optimal environment. Where physicians practice and how they practice is changing. The CEO must ensure the hospital has created a practice environment likely to meet the needs of today’s physicians, to both retain existing staff and to attract new doctors.

Tactics may include a shift to direct hospital employment of physicians, hospitalist and surgicalist programs, pay for emergency department call, physician/hospital joint ventures, gain sharing, and related strategies for enhancing physicians’ lifestyles and incomes.

In addition, the “workshop” is of primary importance to physicians. Efficient patient admission and discharge, quick turnaround of lab results, an adequate nursing staff, reliable access to operating rooms, even convenient parking are all workplace fundamentals key to retaining and attracting physicians.

Doctors today have many practice options. The CEO should objectively evaluate the hospital from the physicians’ perspective and take the steps necessary to create conditions likely to attract doctors.

Display the appropriate attitude. Success in physician recruiting is in large measure a matter of attitude. Who really wants available candidates more? Who is willing to devote the necessary time, resources, and energy needed to recruit doctors in today’s competitive environment?

CEOs can signal their commitment to physician recruiting success in two key ways: by being available and by being responsive. Despite conflicting priorities, CEOs should be accessible when key decisions in the recruiting process need to be made. They also should accommodate the interview schedules of physician candidates, which often mean weekend and night availability. Responding to candidate needs quickly—before misunderstandings or declining interest intervene—is imperative.

Perhaps most important, CEOs should display a sense of urgency about physician recruiting and instill a similar attitude in the recruiting committee. A sense of urgency and purpose is displayed through a competitive incentive package, aggressive candidate sourcing, a clear and readily available contract, and by an ongoing commitment to communicate with and respond to the needs of both existing medical staff and physician candidates. Physician recruiting today requires a responsive team approach. However, only the CEO can position the team for consistent and enduring success.


Mark Smith is president of Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a national physician search and consulting firm and a division of AMN Healthcare. He can be reached at mark.smith@mhagroup.com.
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