Rural Physician Recruiting: What Administrators Are Missing

Hospital administrators are missing the mark when it comes to recruiting physicians to rural markets, prioritizing salary over other elements that physicians feel is more important. Nationwide, 11 percent of physicians live near 20 percent of the country’s population in rural areas, highlighting the shortage.

With Texas on the forefront of rural hospital struggles, the study from Jackson Physician Search highlights why some organizations might have trouble recruiting talent. Only 28 percent of physicians rank compensation as the top priority when considering working in rural communities, but 40 percent of hospital administrators think it is the most important factor. The study says that physicians are more likely to rank community culture as a top factor rather than salary.

Nearly half of physicians said autonomy was important to them, but only 17 percent of administration ranked it in the top three factors. There was also a disconnect between the importance of retention bonuses and the way hospitals can appeal to the rural roots of physicians.

“Compensation will always be a driving factor in recruitment and retention, but this survey confirms how a variety of less easily quantified factors play as important a role in rural physicians’ practice location decisions,” said Tony Stajduhar, president, Jackson Physician Search via release. “It’s vital for hospital administrators to understand that physicians place heavy emphasis on other aspects such as community and workplace culture when considering accepting a position in a smaller, rural or community health setting or staying in that position—especially as the national physician shortage increases.”

The search firm asked more than 150 physicians 23 questions about practicing in rural communities, gathering data on preferences about recruiting, salary, and other work factors.

Stajduhar says that the diversity of rural Texas makes it a unique state when it comes to recruiting physicians, but that communities need to focus on the strengths of working in a small town. Low taxes, low cost of living, and community connections are just some of the advantages many rural communities can sell above salary.

Practices in rural communities would be wise to use more flexible schedules, loan forgiveness, and more time off to attract physicians, according to the study. Family-friendly communities that provide safety and ease of life are also advantages, Stajduhar says. Practices that recruit the family along with the doctor, making it clear that the recruit is joining a community with high levels of interconnectedness is also important.

Leadership can be an important part of the pitch, and assurance from the top of the organization that the doctor will be taken care of can go a long way. “You have to be armed with your story, and be in a position to sell,” Stajduhar says.

One successful rural recruit described his transition to the community in the survey. “I met the whole staff from the hospital board to the MA’s and even most of the city council and church leaders.  I was able to ask them whatever was on my mind and they were very open with me and my family about the area.  I was directly recruited by the CEO who has been in constant contact with me and also the CRO who were both open with my contract and generous when explaining family circumstances and needs.  I will be the only internist and will run my own clinic, put my patients in and also moonlight in the local ER.  I get to do everything I love in medicine or can slow down if needed.”

Read the entire study, “Rural Physician Recruitment: Results from the 2019 Rural Physician and Administration Survey,” here.