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A Doctor’s Advice on Rural Recruiting

Image of small town main street
Gerald Bernard/123RF.com

Many people, those in rural communities, have, with their tireless labor and uncomplaining perseverance, created these remarkable United States. They are, still, people who keep the corners of our world tied down.

These important people are also among those who are suffering the most from a lack of medical care. Rural communities are desperate to attract healthcare providers, especially physicians, and are stepping up their recruitment efforts.

One factor making it more difficult to recruit successfully is the growing trend for doctors to choose salaried positions as employees of a hospital or medical center. Of the physicians just graduating from a family medicine residency, and physicians less than 35 years of age, more than 50 percent choose salaried jobs. Typically, the employer is an institution which serves large populations, has a large budget, and offers many ancillary services.

Rural communities are at a disadvantage – they may or may not have a hospital or ancillary services. They seldom have a budget that can rival those of metropolitan centers. The rural recruiting committees are turning to studying what the recruiting experience is like for potential candidates.

Recruitment starts with distributing or seeking information about rural opportunities.

A poster appeared in the residents work area where I trained. On a background of rugged terrain was written “North, to Alaska!” You could practically feel a cold wind against your face, and hear the grizzly bears. It appealed to my sense of adventure and craving for uncommon experiences. I set up a rotation in Dillingham, on the southern coast, just slightly north of the Aleutian Islands. Well, I got adventure, but that’s another blog.

My first Sunday there I found a church, within walking distance from my lodging, pastored by a single woman my age – we became friends. That was important to me. Sunday evening was volleyball night at the school gymnasium for anyone who cared to be there. On a different evening, people gathered for board games. One of the teachers had formed a book club. I got a library card to indulge my passion for reading. When someone had a party, everyone had a party. The longer I stayed, the more I could see myself practicing there.

As I write this, I see the key concept for successful recruiting – succinct and simple: Treat your candidate as though (s)he has already made the move to your community and is building a life there.

In advance of the site visit, speak with your potential candidate about his/her priorities, and use the responses to construct your visit.

  • Are there kids? Arrange a meeting with the school district’s superintendent, or the administrators of private or parochial schools. Will child-care be needed?
  • Is it important to him/her to connect with a church or synagogue or some other religious affiliation? Would (s)he like to meet with a pastor, rabbi, or other religious leader? It’s ok to ask – you’re not using the information to discriminate for or against hiring.
  • Have a real estate agent take the candidate and spouse/partner on a tour of the community, including looking at homes and/or rentals. Often the agent is eager for the opportunity. Your candidate may not be ready to buy but may need an agent in the future.
  • Are work-out facilities important to your candidate? You can ask your realtor to include those in the community tour.
  • Will a spouse or partner need job information? If they have their own career, how can you show them that your community can accommodate their needs as well?

As my experience in Alaska demonstrates, the more time spent in the community, the more likely that your recruiting efforts will pay off. Invite your candidate, with family, to stay over a weekend. Take them to sporting events, musical performances, theater, and consider outdoor activities. Take them fishing or hunting, cross-country or downhill skiing. Have a pot-luck supper – everyone is welcome. Show your community pulling together. Are there local, natural attractions – Carlsbad Caverns, Crater Lake, the Ozarks, Mount Rushmore? Is there an amusement park, planetarium, art museum, zoo, marine sanctuary, or other attractions?

If an extended visit isn’t possible, invite the candidate to visit a second time, or a third time, if there is mutual interest. Ask the larger businesses in town if they would like to sponsor all or part of a visit. Bringing in a physician is good for everyone in the community, and for the community as a whole. Your community can’t grow, can’t bring in new people or new commerce, without medical care. Recruiting can get expensive, but not as expensive as not recruiting.

Don’t tell your candidates. Show them.

HospitalRecruiting.com offers special pricing to employers located in rural areas. Please contact us for details and a custom quote.  

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About Faith A. Coleman M.D.

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Her experience includes faculty appointments to a family practice residency and three medical schools, as well as Director of Women's and Children's Health Promotion Programs with the NE Texas Public Health District.

Dr. Coleman is the Expert on Gifted Children for the New York Times, parenting writer for Demand Media Studios, as well as health and medical writer for several online information services. She writes professional management material for health care providers and about the personal experience of being a physician. Faith treasures most the role of mother. Her passions include the well-being and education of children and families.