Physician Recruitment Strategies for Rural Integrated Practices

Recruiting physicians to work in a rural area is difficult, and recruiting the wrong candidates can lead to high turnover rates with physicians leaving after a 2-year stint in rural health care. Accepting any applicant for a rural position leads to discontent from providers who don’t really want to be there, and patients grow accustomed to providers who are dissatisfied.

Brian Harris, CEO of Rural Health Group (RHG) writes about the RHG’s process of changing this system. RHG is a non-profit, federally qualified health center serving residents of northeastern North Carolina. They changed how they searched for providers. Being in a rural community does not necessitate desperation in seeking providers. Instead of scrambling to fill vacancies, they adopted the belief that it is acceptable to have a vacancy if the right provider with the necessary competencies hasn’t been found. They have begun looking for candidates who want to practice full-scope family medicine in an integrated primary care setting.

The six core competencies RHG has for providers are:

  • skill set,
  • judgment,
  • communication,
  • passion,
  • honesty, and
  • responsibility.

Providers who have these competencies and view them as necessary for them to practice medicine are a good fit for RHG. Candidates first fill out an application online, and then their licenses are checked for violations of professional standards. After a successful phone call with a recruiter, the candidates interview with Mr. Harris who gives a behavioral interview. If the candidates pass, they then have an interview with RHG’s director of integrated care and a licensed psychologist to assess whether the candidates have the right leadership attributes for the RHG community. Finally, a phone interview with the medical director of RHG is done. After this, Mr. Harris, the director of integrated care, and the medical director meet to decide whether to invite the candidates for an in-person interview. Less than 20% of candidates have been invited for an on-site interview in the past 6 years. The onsite interview includes interviews with each member of the senior team, provider partners, and line staff. Invited candidates are given real estate tours and tours of the community as well.

By shifting the culture and recruitment process, RHG raised its standards and saw an improvement in provider retention and recruitment. They provide practitioners with financial incentives as well as a workplace in which they will want to stay. This environment involves team-based care, which RHG supports by training providers and holding patient-centered medical home meetings. Each provider has one nurse and one medical assistant assigned to them, as well as a panel manager assigned to every two to three providers. Additionally, RHG has integrated behavioral health care into their practices. RHG has five behaviorists on staff to help patients with things like diabetes control, smoking cessation, or depression management.

All of these things are important for recruiting and retaining providers who are dedicated to their work. This helps patients and their families have trust in their care and those providing it.

Read the related article, Finding and Keeping Health Care Providers in Rural Communities: Culture Change in Recruitment at Rural Health Group (PDF - 76.27 KB)

Posted March 2015