Prescription for Physician Recruitment

Dearth in doctors requires new treatment for recruiting these professionals

By Kathy Jordan and Regina Levison Sep 23, 2014
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Schedule a doctor appointment lately?

How long did you have to wait to get in?

And how long did the doctor see you? Five, 10 minutes?

Demand for physicians is great, but the supply of available physicians is not. And this dearth in doctors will become an even greater problem as health care reform funnels millions more people through the United States’ medical system.

What’s more, the country’s physician population is aging. The American Medical Association reports that while there are currently 900,000 practicing physicians, 36 percent of this population is 55 years of age or older. Retirement for many of these health care providers is right around the corner.

Researchers have estimated that America’s existing primary care provider workforce would need to expand by 52,000 primary care physicians between 2010 and 2025 to keep up with the country’s health care requirements, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

In addition, demand for advanced practitioners like physician assistants and nurse practitioners will increase.

Under those circumstances, an optimal physician recruitment function is imperative to health care organizations’ continued profitability and longevity.

Rx for Recruitment Success

Previous recruitment strategies for building and maintaining robust pipelines of talented physicians are in need of makeovers—such as adding options for developing strong in-house recruitment teams; outsourcing the entire recruitment function, supported by internal skeleton staffs; and hybrid recruitment models that combine the best of both internal and external resources.

A typical in-house physician recruiting team spends slightly more than a third of its time identifying physician candidates because team members are consumed with other recruitment tasks such as screening and interviewing candidates, arranging logistics for candidate visits, and contract preparation. Because of these competing demands, it takes an in-house team, on average, 180 days to fill an opening, according to the Association of Staff Physician Recruiters (ASPR), a professional organization for in-house physician recruitment professionals.

Still, depending on the number of positions that need to be filled in an organization each year, it can be less costly to fully staff a physician recruitment department than it is to pay the average $26,000 search fee per retained physician to leading health care recruitment firms, according to ASPR data. In the end, it comes down to volume. If an institution is small and only needs to recruit a few physicians per year, time is less of an issue and the in-house physician recruiting staff most likely will be able to manage it.

Larger institutions recruiting 30 or more physicians per year, however, could feel a significant time and resource crunch, and might find it more effective and efficient to work with an outside recruiting firm to assist with the most challenging searches.

Organizations that outsource their health care recruiting frequently benefit from reduced time-to-fill because their recruitment provider has a ready pool of active and passive candidates to start approaching as soon as they learn of the vacancy. They are devoted full time to the search and have a plethora of resources with which to notify and attract both passive and active candidates. They prescreen candidates according to clients’ set parameters, conduct background checks, coordinate candidate travel and itineraries, and, in some cases, negotiate the candidate’s contract on the organization’s behalf.

Best of Both Worlds

The number of health care organizations realizing the benefits of a hybrid in-house/outsourced physician candidate sourcing model is growing. According to the 2013 ASPR In-House Physician Recruitment Benchmarking Report, 71 percent of health care organizations with a physician recruitment department also paid fees to search firms during the year; and one in seven searches used a blended in-house/search firm model to fill a vacancy.

For example, according to the ASPR’s survey results, there are 13 separate tasks involved in physician recruitment that pose significant time commitments, ranging from conducting source research (25 percent) to data mining (17 percent), managing advertising (15 percent) and tele-prospecting viable candidates (10 percent).

While in-house physician recruiters are adept at conveying community and corporate culture benefits to candidates, many simply don’t have the time or the resources to source qualified candidates. As such, many organizations engage a health care search firm for candidate sourcing to help produce more qualified, prescreened passive and active candidates.

In fact, according to a comparison of traditional outsourced retained search clients and candidate sourcing clients conducted by Jordan Search Consultants, engaging a search firm to source candidates potentially can reduce the time-to-hire by up to 43 percent, and save up to 60 percent or more compared to contingency and retained search models. In addition, because a thorough candidate sourcing service can prescreen candidates and evaluate them for cultural fit, oftentimes more qualified candidates can be presented to the organization at the outset. This enables in-house recruiters to spend more time evaluating candidates for key performance indicators and potential position longevity.

In this model, once the candidates are presented, the in-house recruitment team takes over with candidate interviewing, travel, itineraries, contract negotiation, credentialing and onboarding.

Final Thoughts

Competition for top physicians is and will remain one of a health care facility’s chief operating concerns, and a hybrid physician-candidate sourcing model can provide a way for organizations to gain a competitive edge. Health care institutions also will look toward hiring advanced practitioners to enhance physician productivity and facilitate frontline, non-acute care. Although this is a decision that is usually made within an institution, external recruitment firms can offer suggestions on when advanced practitioners could potentially fill a physician gap based on the practice’s volume and productivity.

Kathy Jordan is the president of the executive, health care, higher education and corporate recruitment firm Jordan Search Consultants. Regina Levison is the organization’s vice president of client development.​

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