You’re recruiting family physicians for a terrific opportunity. The annual salary is $325,000, plus a great benefits package; he or she will work just four days a week and receive eight weeks of PTO yearly. The problem? The job is in Chickasaw County, Iowa, population 12,284—the very definition of rural—and who wants to work in a place like that?
The answer just might surprise you.
Most of us believe rural doctors don’t get to see many interesting cases, but the opposite is true. Edwin Leap, MD, says, “Rural medicine reminds physicians of their value. In the small centers of America, where the advanced technology of medicine isn’t always immediately available, our job becomes absolutely critical.” In fact, rural medicine, in terms of the spectrum of disease encountered, is the most challenging and most stimulating kind of primary care medical career available to doctors in this country. If you are the only doctor within a wide radius, people will come to you for help, rather than try to pick the appropriate out-of-town specialist to diagnose their problem.
Of course, rural areas of the U.S. have almost always been strapped for doctors, and now the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is straining resources even more. But advocates for rural practice say that new technologies (like Doximity, for instance) allow rural physicians to connect more quickly easily with colleagues and specialists elsewhere—making them feel less professionally isolated. And while a lot of physicians aren’t interested in the rural path, some live for it.
Gary White, MD, who has practiced in Roosevelt, Utah for more than 30 years says, “I can’t fathom working in a large city. This is my community. It’s where I live. I treat my neighbors. I’m valued here in the community that I value. It’s the only way I ever considered practicing medicine.”
If you’re recruiting doctors to rural areas, consider these tactics.
1. Stay focused on recruiting candidates who have a rural background—they’re the most likely to consider rural practice. Don’t waste too much of your valuable time trying to change the mind of an urban doctor who is highly unlikely to go to work anywhere rural. Sure, some doctors might consider establishing rural roots, but physicians who already have rural roots are your best bet. Getting back to their “roots” doesn’t mean a physician will only go back to his or her hometown, either. Sometimes it’s a community that’s similar to where they’ve once lived; a rural spot where they can plant new roots.
2. Talk to other satisfied physicians living and working in the area and have them help you showcase the practice opportunity from their perspective. Don’t forget the spouses and families of these doctors, either—if your candidate is married or has a family, they need to be happy, too. One medical student told us, “I’m attending med school specifically so I can practice medicine in a rural community like the one where I grew up, and I chose Osteopathy for the same reason. I want to make a difference in a rural community, and I want my kids to grow up in a place like I did.”
3. Don’t just advertise that the position offers a “work/life balance”—describe the work/life balance opportunities in detail. A four-day workweek is a good start, if it's appropriate. Is the position designed to emphasize certain professional interests or certain procedures a physician prefers? Does the community have a great housing market? Is the city in comfortable proximity to a more urban area? Give your prospective candidates specific facts and/or direct them to sites like Sperlings Best Places, an appropriate great city site like Chattanooga Tennessee; or research a good “best” list of small cities (even those in the area of an opportunity) like the “11 Coolest Small Cities”.
4. Don't get mired in the details of patients per day or collection percentages. Depict what it’s really like to live and work in the community and what makes it special. Find an article a good video on an area that will entice a physician want to move (like this one on Asheville, North Carolina) and stay. Make note of specific professional opportunities, too. After all, physicians go where they are invited; physicians stay where they are well treated; and physicians grow where they are cultivated.
Yes rural physicians are a rare breed, but working in the rural America has a lot to offer a physician—personally and professionally. Focus on the recruiting the right physician candidates with the right details and you’ll make better headway.