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How to Develop a Thoughtful Plan to Promote Rural Opportunities

Five Tenets of Rural Hospital Recruitment
Don Landwehrle/123RF.com

In 2018, the healthcare sector created one out of every seven jobs, making it the largest employer in the US. Although 60 million US citizens call rural communities home, many of those citizens will not benefit from healthcare’s economic boom. Data from the healthcare practice management company Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) shows that their client job searches in communities with fewer than 25,000 people fell from 33% to 17% over the last seven years. Rural hospital recruiters are acutely aware of these challenges; some of those challenges are within the rural hospital recruiter’s control, others are not. Part of rural hospital recruitment is identifying those things over which we have control and combining perseverance with a human touch to overcome them. Today’s rural hospital recruiter must also have a level of online sophistication to be a successful matchmaker. I’ve woven in five key tenets for successful rural hospital recruitment for those looking to add to their toolkit, starting with broad topics around rural opportunity development, online resources, and interviews.

Five Tenets of Rural Hospital Recruitment

1. Craft Your Local SEO

When rural hospital recruiters hearSearch Engine Optimization (SEO),” their knee-jerk response may be “Oh – I better text our Communications person.” But with almost half of user searches on Google interpreted as having “local intent” – meaning searches for organizations geared towards a phrase like “doctor near me” – rural hospital recruiters have some leverage to engage in competition with larger systems with high website traffic. SEO has become increasingly important as part of the rural hospital recruitment and communications toolkit. Develop rural hospital keywords that have high value for SEO to get the attention of rural-focused candidates. Use those same rural keywords when developing profiles for positions posted on HospitalRecruiting.com or similar sites. BrightLocal’s primer on local SEO can help even the most SEO-adverse recruiter navigate this world, and Main Street ROI takes it a step further in helping hospital recruiters use SEO. The takeaway for rural hospital recruiters is that you can compete online with larger hospital systems that have high website traffic and stronger name recognition.

2. Like Real Estate, Think Local, Local, Local

With hospital system mergers and acquisitions, a rural hospital’s uniqueness may be lost to branding and promotion of the parent hospital or system. Ensure that your rural hospital has an identity that extends beyond the parent or larger system; rural hospitals are distinct in their scope of services and relationships with patients and home community. A solid organizational culture is necessary and important in all hospitals, but shared community values resonate at the rural hospital level. Develop social media promotions that highlight innovative care models, moving patient stories, or community/hospital partnerships. Never miss an opportunity to highlight your hometown hospital clinical and administrative staff! (Added benefit – this strategy works for both healthcare professional recruitment and hospital promotion to patients.) Millennials and Gen X and Y candidates want to know what’s going on in your hospital and expect you to have a robust social media presence. Ensuring your social media presence online is creative, informative and catches readers’ attention is key to attracting great rural hospital talent.

3. Connect with Rural Providers and Expertise Online

Online resources for rural hospital recruitment are plentiful, but to the layperson it’s tough to identify the ones that offer updated content that’s also relevant. Sites that offer both rural recruitment tools and healthcare job promotion services are the rural hospital recruiter’s best bet.

Association of Clinicians for the Underserved

The Association of Clinicians for the Undeserved (ACU) was founded in 1996 by alumni of the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) who sought a space to meet and commensurate with other Corps alumni about best practices in patient care and knowledge transfer around primary care delivery. This non-profit’s primary goals are to improve the health of America’s underserved populations and provide support to the health care clinicians serving these populations. Through the ACU, promote your rural hospital’s clinical or non-clinical opportunities to an audience seeking rural and/or underserved community employment. ACU’s affiliated training arm, the Solutions, Training, and Assistance for Recruitment and Retention, or STAR2 Center, shares best practices in workforce capacity tailored to their Community Health Center partners. Much of this content is relevant to rural hospital recruiters; their website has open access to resources and best practices in rural recruitment, among other hot workforce topics.

Rural Residency Training Programs

Rural Residency Training programs train primary care residents to practice in rural communities at the top of their scope and with autonomy. Residents are prepared for solo practice settings and complete extensive training in labor and delivery. Typically, training involves two years in a hospital setting and one year in a rural outpatient ambulatory care setting. There are more than 20 rural residency training programs across the country, and HRSA has recently funded another 27 new rural training programs across the country. Rural hospital recruiters not currently hosting or developing a rural residency program may still gain useful insight into rural recruitment and work with rural medical schools and training programs through consultation with the Rural Training Track (RTT) Collaborative.

The National Rural Health Association

A 501c-3 nonprofit, The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) provides leadership on rural issues through advocacy, communication, education, and research. NRHA member benefits include resources for rural workforce capacity building and a campaign to save vulnerable rural hospitals from closure. These are just a sampling of the topics that make NRHA a critical resource for rural hospital recruiters and other staff. NRHA hosts a career center with branding solutions where rural hospital and other healthcare organizations promote opportunities.  NRHA’s annual conference offers educational content about rural healthcare issues and opportunities and provides networking opportunities for rural hospital staff from across the country.

4. Start Searches Earlier Than Everyone Else

In this healthcare employment market on over-drive, it’s never too early to make and build important connections with future candidates. Long before residency outreach begins, reach out to your state-based medical schools and offer to present content relevant to medical students. Connect with those medical students with a rural focus, like those in Family Medicine Interest Groups (FMIGs), or target another specialty group; there’s representation for just about every hospital specialty. Partner with the physician leader from your hospital or community to ensure access to FMIGs and to provide a physician lens to your presentation. Be intentional in making connections with those rural-oriented students. Later, check in to see how clerkships are going, and always host those if possible. Be a resource to medical students; they appreciate mentors and will return to you for advice throughout their medical student and professional career. Keep track of them in residency wherever that takes them. Some of these newly minted physicians will seek rural opportunities. Your hospital may be perfect for those with whom you’ve cultivated relationships, especially if those candidates trained in Rural Training Tracks.

5. Intentional Interviewing: Mastering Candidate Visits & Interviews

Get the Right Team on Board

Far too often rural recruitment breaks down when one member of the recruitment team breaks the chain, either through not being interested, or expressing opinions that in some way impairs the candidate’s ability to assess your hospital and team objectively. We’ve all heard the horror stories of rural recruiters who had clinical staff or others on the interview team make one negative comment that completely derailed a candidate visit and/or interview.  Losing just one highly motivated candidate sets a rural hospital recruiter’s search back immeasurably. As much as possible, push for the right people on board for visits/interviews. Make sure that buy-in from clinical, administrative, and front office staff is front and center for your candidates.  

Kill ‘em with Kindness

A long-time business management coach and writer, my father, loves to tell this story about me. When I was 16 I got a summer job with a pharmacy that’s since been absorbed by one of the big chains. My first day of work included a polygraph test and no breaks – no break for lunch or for any other reason. I came home in tears, certain that the work world was made up of inscrutable tests and hunger. Rural hospital recruitment, like your very first job, is made or broken by the little things. Let’s assume your rural candidate likes your opportunity and you can agree on compensation. The thing that sets you apart from other opportunities and communities are the small details – the details about your community, the details in your onboarding plan. These details play a significant role in provider decision-making. Highlight the elements that give your rural community its character. For candidates who are focused on outdoor activities, highlight the fact that your rural community has that in abundance. Most rural providers are inherently tenacious; they’ve selected a difficult but highly rewarding career path. Ensure that you connect new provider hirers with an informal network that includes rural-passionate hospital and ambulatory clinicians and other staff to help them make a seamless work transition to your community. Connecting your new rural provider with key staff in your hospital will show that you value her or him as an important member of your team. Such connections are the first step in integrating your new provider and setting her or him up for a pathway to success in your rural community.

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About Stacey E. Halford, MSW, LMSW

Stacey E. Halford, a Licensed Master’s Social Worker, spent thirteen years as a Rural Healthcare Recruiter in a non-profit, placing physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in rural hospital and ambulatory care settings. In July, 2019, Ms. Halford launched Day Halford Consultants, LLC. Through this work, Ms. Halford consults with healthcare non-profits and other healthcare entities for rural healthcare access strategy development.