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Recruiting physicians in difficult times

By Joan M. Roediger, JD, LLM

Recruiting a new physician to your practice is a time consuming and expensive process. Certain factors such as availability of candidates, your practice’s location and income earning potential may increase or decrease your chances of recruiting success. Your search process needs to be thorough and adaptable based upon your practice’s needs.

Define What You Seek

Develop key criteria for your ideal candidate. Most practices that seek to hire a new associate do not have stated job criteria other than requiring M.D./D.O. and a valid state medical license. Why are you recruiting in the first place? Is the recruitment due to physician attrition within your practice or for succession planning purposes? Is your practice growing and needs a new physician? Or, are you recruiting a physician to help balance out your existing workload and improve your call schedule? Determine what factors are important to you in making your new associate fit in with your practice.

Consider the time and expense it will take you to recruit a physician to your practice. By spending the time to develop a clear picture of your ideal candidate, you will greatly increase the potential of long-term practice success with your new associate.

Sell Your Practice

Once you have defined your ideal candidate, prepare a short description of your practice and your practice’s location. Today’s young physicians are interested in more than just practicing medicine. They are interested in the flexibility of your practice in terms of work hours and call coverage. They also are interested in details regarding your community.

I recently saw an ad prepared by a medical practice in Kansas which was posted at a national medical conference. The medical practice included in its ad not only a picture of the office and a description of the practice’s working conditions and the local medical community and payor mix, but also highlighted the many attributes of the community including the schools, golf courses, shopping centers and other area attractions. They did a great job enticing potential applicants to their practice which is located off the beaten path.

Search for the Right “Match”

Start your search as early as possible. Recognize that it may take you two years or more to find the “right” candidate for your practice. The earlier you begin your search in an academic year, the greater your chances will be for success in making your match that year.

With your practice description in hand, begin your search by contacting local training programs and speak with the program coordinators. Let them know your practice is looking to recruit a new associate.

Your next step in the recruiting process should be the Internet. There are an increasing number of excellent job searching tools available on the Internet. Many young physicians rely solely on the Internet to inform them of available positions. Make sure your practice places an advertisement on at least one general physician job-listing website.

Also check with your specialty society. In addition to placing an ad in the society’s printed journal, you should place your ad on the society’s website in their recruitment section. Depending on the timing of your society’s annual meeting, you may also want to post your practice’s ad at the annual conference where you will have maximum exposure to physicians in your specialty.

You may also consider retaining a professional recruiter to assist you with your search for your new associate. Some practices tend to shy away from using recruiters solely due to cost considerations. However, when you consider the time it will take you to locate a new associate, check his or her references and weed out unsuitable candidates, and balance it against the value of your limited time, recruiters start to look more cost-effective. Also, if you are in a geographic region that is not in demand among associates, for instance, Philadelphia, Texas and Nevada, which are facing a malpractice insurance crisis, it may make good business sense to hire a recruiter to help you identify potential candidates.

If you decide to hire a recruiter, make sure your expectations are clearly spelled out in a written contract. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the terms of the contract. Before you hire the recruiter, ask how many placements they did last year and for which specialties they recruit. You will most likely be better served by working with a recruiter who focuses their practice on recruiting for your particular specialty and has placed many physicians within the past few years.

Screening Process

After you have laid all the groundwork with placing your practice ads or hiring a recruiter, hopefully the resumes will begin to roll in. If you don’t see an adequate response within one month, review your ads and make necessary changes.

Sort through the resumes you receive and rank them based upon how closely they meet the job criteria you previously established. Do not make the mistake of only considering one candidate at a time. You can be assured that your candidates won’t be solely considering your practice.

Unless the candidates are local to your area, your first step in the interviewing process should be the telephone interview. Prepare a checklist of questions to ask a prospective candidate during the phone interview. Take notes during the phone interview. Use this interview to screen potential candidates and to determine which candidates you will invite for an in-person interview.

If your candidate is expected to travel to your practice for the interview, offer to pay the candidate for his or her travel expenses, if possible. You want to make it as easy as possible for the candidate to come to your office.

When scheduling the in-person interview, plan to invite the candidate to visit your practice during regular office hours so he or she can get an idea of the daily workings of the practice. Remember that not only are you interviewing the candidate, but that they are also interviewing you and the practice to determine if it is a good match for them as well. Schedule time for a tour of the hospital and other health care facilities where your practice works. If you are very interested in the candidate and only plan on one interview with the candidate, you will also want to schedule a community tour where you can highlight the many benefits of your practice area and surrounding neighborhoods.

Contracting for Recruiting Success

Once you have weeded down your candidates to one or two, you should have your attorney prepare a non-binding outline of terms of employment or letter of intent (LOI). The number of physicians you share this with will determine the needed legal language. Regardless, the LOI should highlight the key terms of the proposed employment relationship such as salary, bonus opportunities, vacation, benefits, partnership opportunities and the restrictive covenant. The LOI performs a useful tool in the final screening of a potential candidate. Once the candidate has signed the LOI, then you can have your attorney prepare the employment agreement for the candidate that is based upon the terms of the LOI.

Make sure you discuss with your attorney the challenges your practice has faced in recruiting a new physician. Your attorney should appreciate the difficulties in recruiting and should draft an agreement that will hopefully not scare off potential associates, yet still protect your interests. You should understand the terms of the employment agreement and be able to discuss the terms with your associate if needed. For instance, you should feel comfortable explaining to your new associate why your practice has a particular restrictive covenant.

The final step in the recruiting process is your due diligence. You should not only check the references of your new colleague, but you should also verify the associate’s credentials with the applicable state licensing boards. Also make sure to double check that the associate is not listed as a sanctioned provider on the Office of Inspector General’s website ( and appropriately document your background check in your compliance materials and the new physician’s personnel file. Your new associate’s employment should be contingent upon your successful completion of the background check.

Recruiting a new associate is not an easy task. By carefully defining what your practice needs and then aggressively pursuing all avenues to locate potential candidates, you will greatly improve your likelihood of recruiting success. Understand, recruiting takes time and resources. However, when you consider the benefits a new associate will bring to your practice, the time and resources you devote to the search process are a worthy investment in your practice’s future.

Joan M. Roediger, JD, LLM, is a partner in the law firm of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP in Philadelphia and is a Member of Obermayer’s Health Law Department.

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