Recruiting Rural Physicians: How to Increase Success

Rural communities and hospitals often face physician recruitment and retainment challenges for a variety of reasons. Typically, doctors tend to prefer urban or more populated areas. Along with geography, economics, culture, education, technological resources and healthcare resources are also leading obstacles to recruitment for rural hospitals and healthcare systems. These are challenges that urban healthcare organizations do not have to deal with, which makes it difficult for rural hospitals to stay competitive when it comes to recruiting and retaining top physicians.

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Copper Queen Community Hospital in Brisbee Arizona, a former mining town with a small population of about 6,700 people that has become a haven for artists, hasn’t been as successful at attracting doctors as it has been at attracting freethinkers.

“We’re having a harder time this year than last year,” said CEO Jim Dickinson in a Modern Healthcare interview. “I think there’s a bidding war going on for physicians”. Copper Queen first raised it’s starting salary for primary care doctors to $225,000 from $150,000 to stay competitive with similar local healthcare organizations. However, because the hospital can’t bill enough to justify it’s lucrative pay packages, it’s dependant on assistance from the National Health Service Corps, an HHS agency that provides incentives including loan repayments for doctors willing to practice in underserved regions, according to a Modern Healthcare article.


A Different Approach

To be successful, hospitals in rural, underserved areas need to get creative and take different roads to recruit and retain physicians. Rural hospital managers, administrators and executives are using a wide range of tactics to attract physicians. Despite the fact that there are challenges in a rural community, they also offer alternative opportunities, lifestyles and benefits over urban environments.


Highlight Your Organization’s Strengths

As previously mentioned, rural hospitals offer an attractive alternative lifestyle and a host of benefits over urban hospitals. However, to attract physicians, it’s important that you do a good job of showcasing your strengths. For example, you could create a marketing campaign to highlight that rural communities are less densely populated than their suburban and urban counterparts. As a result of this, there tends to be less pollution, noise and crime, according to a New England Journal of Medicine article. Rural areas also offer unmatched scenic beauty, including mountains, coastline, rivers and lakes. In a rural area, living on a coast, river or lake is considerably less expensive due to a, typically, all around lower cost of living.

Rural hospitals also offer a more intimate “small town” feel, where many employees know each other and see one another every day. Physicians have the opportunity to know their patients on a more personal level and more frequently run into them while off-duty. As a physician, it can be rewarding to be a well known resource for the local community. At the same time, this type of connection can be overwhelming for some physicians.

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Leverage the Help of the Physicians You Have

You already have physicians and clinicians practicing within your organization who can be a fantastic resource. As your employees, it’s more than likely they are invested in your organization and would be willing to collaborate to ensure its future success. Physicians can provide referrals, answer candidate questions during interviews about working at your facility or practice and describe what it’s like to live in the community. Assuming that your physicians are satisfied and successful in their position, it may be beneficial for candidates to see the opportunities from an seasoned and content rural healthcare professional’s point of view, according to a Medicus article.



Work with a Professional Staffing Agency

Running a healthcare organization is a complex and full-time job, and it can be a challenge to find enough time to devote to recruiting in the midst of that, even in an urban environment. In a rural setting, where the recruiting challenges are even greater, leveraging a professional healthcare recruiting firm can be even more beneficial.

Healthcare Recruiters International and other healthcare recruiting firms specifically focus on finding talent solutions for rural medical practices and hospitals. Recruiting firms have the expertise, experience and network connections necessary to place candidates in underserved areas. If you’re in need of new physicians, contact our Healthcare, Allied Health and Hospital Recruiters.

Related Post: Tips for Working with a Healthcare Recruiter



Rural hospital leaders and executives have for years been innovative in their recruiting strategies, using incentives such as loan forgiveness or scheduling accommodations in attempt to gain a competitive edge over their urban counterparts. The challenge is that now almost every hospital offers these incentives, not just rural hospitals, lowering the playing field and making it even more difficult for rural hospitals to stay competitive.

One route that has been successful for some hospitals is hooking medical students on rural medical practice by having them train there. According to Trustee Mag, doctors who train in rural areas are two to three times more likely to end up practicing in a rural community. Some hospital administrators have been wise enough to take advantage of this fact.

Iowa’s Fort Madison hospital began serving as a training site for medical students at Des Moines University, a graduate health sciences university. Training rotations typically last a few weeks to a month, however, last year the hospital added a one-year training slot, according to Trustee Mag. Strategically, in during the last week of each training rotation, senior hospital leaders have breakfast with students to gain insight into how their training went, how it could be improved and whether or not the student would like to return for more training. In the end, administrators also ask what it would take for the student to come work at Fort Madison when their residency is complete.

Factors Important to First Time Family Practice Residents:

Significant other’s wishes 1
Medical community friendly to family physicians 2
Recreation/culture 3
Proximity to family/friends 4
Significant other’s employment 5
Schools for children 6
Size of community 7
Initial income guarantee 8
Benefits plan 9
Proximity to spouse’s family/friends 10

Figure 1:

Obstacles to Overcome

Rural communities have been and will continue to be challenged to successfully recruit and retain physicians. Challenges range from work related, visa status, educational infrastructure, financial and geographic considerations. As a healthcare leader, it’s important to identify candidates confident in their skills due to the fact that, in a rural setting, hospitalists rely more heavily on clinical judgement, procedural skills and expertise. In an urban hospital, there is far more access to specialists and medical technology. Candidates must also be comfortable with and receptive of the challenges facing rural healthcare organizations including a potentially demanding on-call schedule and the economic constraints that prevent small and rural hospitals from being able to offer competitive compensation and additional practice resources.

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