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4 Out of 5 Headhunters Agree: Doctors are the Hardest to Recruit

Headhunters Agree: Doctors are Hardest to Recruit
Sergiy Tryapitsyn/123RF.com

Disclaimer:  this article offers tongue-in-cheek generalizations based on stereotypical exaggerations for the purpose of engaging the readers’ interest. Any similarity between the boorish behaviors parodied and actual people is unintentional.


There is a special chair in Headhunter Heaven for the healthcare recruiter. Granted, all senior executive positions are difficult to fill, and any recruiter seeking a great C-level manager for a Fortune 2000 client faces a daunting task. Still, you can use LinkedIn to find plenty of highly qualified commercial executives. An annual subscription to Match.com won’t find the doctor of your dreams.

To say doctors can be picky is to invite hysterical laughter. To predict what any doctor will be picky about is sheer madness. The only successful recruiting strategy is to predict nothing, prepare for everything, and embrace the laughter.

Don’t think for a second that this article provides a comprehensive list of “everything.” I’m stereotyping the characters herein, not the marketing techniques of click-baiters. Let’s just say that it’s about a few things that came to mind when I thought about trying to recruit doctors.

They Are Right

It’s hard to state this more simply. As you talk to doctors and interview doctors, one can almost smell in the air that they are right, regardless of the topic. It can be a little unsettling until you get used to it. Worse – it’s almost always true. Doctors are very smart. Become one with that.

This is important because it means the doctor is unlikely to believe anything you say that conflicts with her understanding. Rather than attempt to convince a doctor of anything, you will be better rewarded for merely revealing the path that leads to the understanding you want her to have. You want the doctor to believe that the decision to join your organization was her idea.

At most, you merely helped her solidify and support the decision she reached by providing information or analysis she may not have yet considered – not that she wouldn’t have thought to consider it, mind you. If life’s distractions delay her decision, however, you are allowed to nudge her along. In your finest Socratic basso, fill in the blanks, throw in a little pleasantry and context, then repeat after me:  “But tell me, Doctor, how will you achieve ____________ without  ________________?” When she answers, “By joining your organization,” act surprised.

They Don’t Need Your Stinkin’ Job

Sometimes they are less tactful, but doctors always let you know this reality. And, again, sadly, it’s true. Any doctor who can point a penlight is able to find a well-paying job today. Because trying to sell people that don’t need your product is not a recipe for career success, the healthcare recruiter has to overcome this tiny hurdle if he doesn’t want his retirement IRA to go MIA.

Obviously, with a good income secured, appealing to the doctor’s fear of the future is not a game-winner. On the other hand, her fear of right now, of what she’s potentially missing by staying in her current employ, is. What could she be missing? Just ask. She probably self-diagnosed long ago.

Doctors will make fast decisions – if it’s something they want. Otherwise, they make slow decisions, if at all.  Whether Pavlov or Freud offers the best explanation for this phenomena is debatable, but all you need to know is that a physician won’t accept your job offer unless she wants the job – badly. So, you just need to make her want your job – badly.

Here’s the tricky part: not only do doctors not need your job; they don’t want it either.  It’s a job, not a new Mercedes. But, if you help her see that with the job, she can have the Mercedes, or the bigger house, or more prestige, or fewer hours, or less stress, or more family time, she will want the job. Figure out what makes her steak sizzle, and sell it.

Mariah Carey, MD

You’ll think the printers left two letters off your job title, Mr. Recruiter, before Dr. Drill Sergeant is through with you. Think “Diva with a Scalpel.”

Physicians can be rather demanding. On rare occasions, they don’t even realize it. Your goal as the healthcare recruiter is to survive without hurting anyone. You are only able to do that because you know it is a temporary situation. You are able to do this while appearing to others as someone who enjoys beatings on weekends.

This is the paragraph where I’m supposed to teach you how to turn this issue to your advantage. And, I could…but, no. Waiting hand and foot, jumping through flaming hoops, chasing our tails, dodging potholes, and all the rest of this vida loca can only be accounted for as a “cost of doing business.” We do it for the money, and one has to spend money to make money. So the price is a small piece of your soul – just don’t overspend, and remember: there are no refunds, and divas don’t date duds. Somewhere mid-angst is Happy Land.

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About Ron Lewis

The former Director of a global provider of business process services to healthcare companies, Ron Lewis has written extensively on management, personnel, and employment issues within the industry for numerous website and media sources.