6 Tips for Recruiting During the Primary Care Physician Shortage

It's no secret there's a massive shortage of primary care physicians in the United States. Unless the situation changes, there will be a shortfall of 20,400 PCPs by the year 2020, according to the US Health Resources and Services Administration. For hospitals and physician recruiters, "There's an arms race across the country for primary care providers," says Brett Walker, MA, FASPR, Director of Physician & Advanced Provider Recruitment at Indiana University (IU) Health, headquartered in Indianapolis, IN.

6 Tips for Recruiting During the Primary Care Physician Shortage

Despite the shortage, Mr. Walker and his team at IU have been winning at this "arms race" – they've recruited 45 new PCPs to the IU Health System in the past 18 months. "Our goal is to recruit 60-plus primary care physicians over a 2 and a half to 3-year period, and we're on track to knock that goal out of the park," he adds.

How did they do it? Here's their plan:

Have a plan.

Yes, the first step of the plan is to sit down and actually come up with a specific written plan. "We're focused and methodical about recruitment," Mr. Walker says. "We're proactive, not reactive."

Get your administrators, your recruiters, and your staff organized to jointly develop a formal and strategic plan of action–and then make a commitment for everyone to stick to that plan. The IU team developed a worksheet with their activities and goals for the year, and they review this plan twice a month to make sure they're on target.

Assemble a task force.

The IU Health System developed a dedicated Primary Care Recruitment Committee comprised of members from all the departments with a stake in the game. This team includes the VP of the Primary Care Service Line, the MD Administrative Director of Primary Care, the Director of Physician Recruitment (Mr. Walker), a Primary Care Recruiter, and a Recruitment Coordinator.

Involvement of both an executive from the administration as well as the head MD of primary care is key to achieving their goals, Mr. Walker explained.

Another key component to the task force: close communications through scheduled meetings as well as on-the-spot phone calls and e-mails. For the first part, the committee meets for an hour every two weeks to review where each candidate stands and what the next steps are, as well as other recruitment and sourcing activities so that nothing falls through the cracks.

For the second part, the team members stay closely in touch to keep the recruitment process moving quickly. "When our primary care recruiter submits a candidate to the service line leadership and to our lead physician, that lead physician usually responds in less than 20 minutes," Mr. Walker says. "Next, we usually schedule that doctor-to-doctor phone call–the candidate speaking directly with our lead physician–within 7 to 10 days at the most. If that goes well, we bring the candidate in for an interview within 10 business days."

Offer an incentive.

A financial incentive gets a resident's attention, Mr. Walker says. As part of IU's primary care recruitment plan, they instituted an Early Commitment Residency Stipend Program in which residents who sign a contract to join can receive a stipend of $2,000 a month structured as a forgivable loan up 24 months from completing their training.

This incentive is often the deciding factor for IU residents who are on the fence about staying at IU or going elsewhere, Mr. Walker explains. "It's been amazing the difference that has made," he says. "Last year, we signed several residents who won't complete training until 2017. Right now, we're getting ready to sign a couple residents who don't finish training until 2018."

Use every tool in the toolkit.

While the Residency Stipend Program has gained a lot of attention, the IU primary care team isn't sitting still–they continue to turn every stone to find new PCPs.

"We're doing e-mail blasts, we're advertising, we're making presentations to programs, and we're using social media. Every day, we're checking the databases like PracticeMatch's Pinpoint and MedTies. We're mining our own applicant tracking system and reaching out to every primary care physician that we've been in touch with in the last 5 years. We're sending direct mail to candidates across the country who have ties to the Midwest," Mr. Walker enumerated. "So we're always filling the pipeline."

Recruit advanced providers.

"Advanced providers–nurse practitioners and physician assistants–are a big solution to the physician shortage," Mr. Walker says. Even though the IU program has had exceptional success recruiting primary care physicians, they're still recruiting advanced providers to fill the gaps in primary care. "Last year was the first time since I've been here where we actually recruited more advanced providers than we did doctors, and I think that's a trend that's going to continue," he says.

Put out the welcome mat.

Finally, but most importantly, make candidates feel welcome. "My favorite quote of all time in recruitment is, 'Candidates are going to go to the location where they feel the most welcome,'" Mr. Walker says. "If you're a candidate interviewing for jobs, and you've got it narrowed down to two organizations, and they're the same in terms of compensation and everything else, you're going to choose the place that makes you feel the most welcome."

Physicians are highly educated, motivated, and usually level-headed–but they're still human beings, and choosing a new position is as much of an emotional decision as an intellectual one. "So we try to provide a good candidate experience–everything that we do, we try to put the focus on how the candidate would feel," he explains.

The bottom line: Formulate a strategic plan and stick to it, and then make the candidate feel welcome, Mr. Walker concludes.