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Journal of ASPR - Winter 2013 - Not a “one size fits all” process
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Planning for physician recruitment

Not a “one size fits all” process

By Andrea Clement Santiago, Director of Communications and Media Relations, The Medicus Firm, Buford, GA

As a physician recruitment professional, you most likely will be involved in developing your employer’s strategic plan for physician recruitment. Planning is key in order to budget the appropriate amount of money, time and resources to the organization’s future physician recruitment initiatives.

If you have been in your role with the same organization for some time, you most likely have a planning process in place. However, most plans need to be continually updated to be effective. For those of you who are new to the role of physician recruitment, or have recently begun a new job, you may be developing a recruitment plan and strategy from scratch. Either way, completing a physician recruitment plan for the coming year can be a daunting task.

Strategic planning is certainly not a “one-size-fits-all” project. However, there are some common tactics that many successful physician recruitment professionals use to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their physician recruitment planning.

Recent interviews with a group of physician recruitment professionals working for different organizations revealed some interesting information. The group members shared several common best practices, even though the structures of recruiting department and sizes of medical staff varied substantially. The following are some best practices that these successful professionals utilize to create an effective physician recruitment and retention plan.

Time frame

Experienced physician recruiters recommend having a long-term, big-picture plan, and a shorter-term, one-year plan. Most of the long-term plans average around three to five years. Of course, the further out you try to plan into the future, the more challenging it is to accurately predict and project physician staffing needs.

Kay Wysong, director of physician recruiting for Methodist Health System, Dallas, TX, has experience with long-term recruiting plans. “Because healthcare is changing so much, we end up ‘tweaking’ or revising [our five year] plan on an annual basis,” Wysong said.

Some organizations opt not to plan quite as far out in advance. “We do a three-year manpower plan, which is a big overview of what we think we’ll need over the next few years,” said Joelle Hennesey, director of physician recruitment and relations for Manatee Healthcare Systems, Bradenton, FL. “Then around August or September, I’ll submit a more detailed plan for the following year.”

The recruitment professionals agreed that planning takes at least a few weeks, but can vary depending on the size of the physician staff, the level of detail involved, the resources and assistance available. If one person is tasked with the project, a physician recruitment plan for a large organization could take a couple months to complete. However, many larger systems do have resources to help reduce the workload and work hours needed to finish the recruitment plan.


It seems obvious that physician recruiters should be actively involved in developing the physician recruitment plan for their organization. While most physician recruiters actually spearhead or lead the planning initiatives, some are completely left out of the planning process. Caitlin Cartwright, manager of physician recruitment at Dignity Health Medical Foundation in California, is not included in her organization’s physician staff planning. Cartwright said she feels that physician recruiters can and should offer valuable insight and input into physician staff planning. “Physician recruiters offer strategic value [to staff planning],” Cartwright said. “Beyond that, we know a lot about market trends, hurdles, etc., and we’re in touch with other recruiters.”

In addition to physician recruiters, other parties involved in the physician recruitment planning process include the organization’s executives, such as the CEO, COO, and members of the finance department and business development.

Furthermore, outside consultants are often involved in the needs assessment aspect of planning. For legal purposes, many physician recruitment professionals rely on third party firms to conduct an unbiased community needs assessment as a way to help reduce liability with respect to Stark guidelines.

Needs assessment

Needs assessment is paramount to successful physician staff planning. Raw data from a variety of sources are vital to successful needs assessment. This entails gathering information from within the hospital or healthcare system as well as industry trends or studies. In-house data may include utilization data, referral patterns, new or growing service lines, patient census and other patient demographics. External information needed for physician staff planning includes community needs assessment (often completed by a third-party firm), reimbursement data, government data, industry trends, compensation data from reputable surveys, population data, and more.

Wysong explained how these data are incorporated into the physician staff plan by a third-party consulting firm. “These plans are developed by an outside consulting agency using a combination of the most prominent organizations who evaluate physician to population ratios. They add the GMENAC figures as well and come up with an average number of physicians in a specialty to administer care to a set of population figures. From this information, and using our population growth figures, our strategic planning professionals can recommend the number of physicians needed in coming years per suburban and urban areas included in our service area of over 1 million.”

Other physician recruitment professionals develop the medical staff plans in-house, using data from internal reports. For example, Manatee Healthcare Systems in Florida employs a full-time data manager, whose job consists of running and maintaining reports for various uses within the system, including staff planning.

Predicting the future

It seems next to impossible to plan for all of the variables that can impact a system’s physician staff. However, experience, resources, and foresight can help when devising an effective physician recruitment plan. Additionally, a bit of flexibility within the recruiting department helps in adapting to unexpected changes in the status of the physician staff.

Factors to consider

When developing a physician recruitment plan, one must consider many factors, including areas of growth. Which service lines are adding volume or expanding? Which are contracting? It is also important to consider if there are any seasonal or longer-term population fluctuations, physicians nearing retirement, or those who are potentially relocating out of the area. Recruitment planning must also take into account the political environment of the community, the physicians already practicing there, industry trends that may impact the local physician workforce, reimbursement rates/changes, and new or current capital equipment. Even the local housing market can be a factor in physician recruitment. Along with healthcare structural changes, other factors that may affect a physician recruitment plan include “community growth or loss of population, physician illness, retirement or moving out of the community, loss of revenue in the organization, etc.,” said Wysong.

The method and structure of compensation also play a role in planning. For example, if a physician is going to be employed and no salary guarantee is being offered, the community needs assessment does not factor into recruitment as it would for physicians on an income guarantee for private practice opportunities.

Pitfalls & tips

Here are a few of the issues that can cause your physician plan to fail or fall short:

Interview process: If you don’t have an efficient, well-oiled interview process in place for your physician recruiting, this could reduce your success rate of filling searches.

Alignment: If hospitals, systems, medical groups, and/or private practices are not in alignment, recruitment can falter or fail altogether. Open, ongoing communication is key. This is where business development executives or physician liaisons play an important role in bridging all perspectives and ensuring that each, respectively, is on the same page. They may also prevent unwanted political or cultural clashes.

“Every community has that physician who doesn’t want a new doctor to come into [the community],” said Cartwright. She advises addressing the emotional and political aspects of recruitment with existing physicians prior to bringing candidates in for interviews. Help them understand how the recruitment will help the existing physicians in practice, as opposed to being what the existing physicians see as competition.

Timing: Consider, in light of current trends, the lead time of your searches, length of the recruiting cycle, and when you are timing your recruitment within the year.

Change: Planning for change, especially that which cannot be predicted, is a major challenge. “Changes in healthcare and in the delivery of healthcare are some of the hardest to plan for,” said Wysong. She cited a personal experience where a drastic change in recommended hospital stays for a certain procedure suddenly reduced patient census in a particular department of the hospital. To overcome these pitfalls, Wysong offered several useful tips in creating a successful physician recruitment plan:

  1. Start early.
  2. Know your medical staff.
  3. Let go of pre-conceived ideas — think out of the box.
  4. Pay attention to detail — take care of the little things during recruitment, onboarding, and beyond, and your physicians will have faith that you can handle the bigger projects.
  5. Research trends to anticipate potential changes.


Planning for retention is just as important as planning for recruitment. Cartwright offered several tips for effectively retaining physician talent:

  • Actively and continually engage spouse and family of the physician to help the entire family to get fully integrated into the community personally and professionally.
  • Consider a mentor or buddy system.
  • Keep “recruiting” a physician several months after they start working in the community — for the first six months, if possible.
  • Use satisfaction surveys and informal conversation to gauge physicians’ happiness with their practice and address any physicians’ concerns promptly and effectively.
  • Know your physicians’ career goals and offer the necessary support to help achieve them.

There is no single “right” way to plan for physician recruitment — every organization has different needs, culture, and resources with which to work. Ultimately, the planning process has to fit and work for you and your employer.

Journal of ASPR - Winter 2013

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