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Avoid costly errors in physician recruitment

What happened? That new doctor had good credentials and the office made a good offer. Why didn’t the hire work out?

The most common cause of physician recruitment failure is lack of planning. A successful hire requires that the doctors map out what they need and that the newcomer knows what to expect.

The work and the personality

Start the process at the beginning. Identify what the doctors want in the way of specialty and clinical qualifications.

Equally important, the doctors need to decide what type of person they want to hire.

  • Do they want someone who mirrors their own abilities or someone who is stronger in another area?
  • Do they want someone with marketing ability?
  • Someone to appeal to Medicare patients?
  • Someone to relate to younger patients?
  • Someone just out of residency or someone with more experience?

A job description does more than show the new doctor what work is expected. It prevents conflict. Without it, there’s a risk that one of the physicians will later say the new doctor isn’t working enough hours or is posing a threat to another doctor’s position. If the new doctor is a four-day person, there could be resentment about who is on call most often.

Also important are personality and work habits to match your own practice’s culture. Your doctors need to define their corporate culture.

Basically, culture covers two points – social attitude and work attitude

Knowing the social attitude, the doctors can see if and how a candidate will fit in. A group that enjoys backyard barbecues on weekends or takes vacations together, for example, may not be a match for an unmarried physician.

Knowing the work attitude means the doctors can explain to the candidate the extent to which he or she is expected to work and what the future will likely be with the office. The doctors may be especially intense in their work, or they may focus heavily on charity care or on business. A new doctor who wants to build a busy practice won’t suit a group who moved to Montana so they can practice three days a week and fly fish the other two.

Similarly, the doctors need to be prepared to explain to the candidate how they will work with and utilize their assistants.

Settle the business issues

Before hiring, the doctors need to have their own house in order.

If they recently split from a group, for example, there may still be issues such as what referrals to pursue, what the patient market will be, how to conduct business, and plans for expansion. The newcomer needs to know about such plans in order to make a decision.

Salary also has to be determined before recruitment begins. Be realistic. Just because Dr. A came in three years ago at $X doesn’t mean the salary is adequate today. Neither can the office overestimate its own value. Just because a practice is in an attractive location does not mean it can offer a low salary.

Compensation, benefits, and partnership opportunities should all be spelled out ahead of time. Also consider whether you will need to offer a signing bonus or pay moving expenses.

Medical school loan repayments may also be part of the offer.

Before the recruiting ever begins, the doctors need to have the contract terms decided on and the papers written out so they can make an offer as soon as they find the right candidate.

Another business issue is the basic question of whether the office can really afford to hire a new doctor. If not, it may need to look for a physician extender instead of recruiting a new doctor.

The partnership agreement is yet another part of the business planning and a part that’s often overlooked. The agreement may not be set up to take on another doctor and if it isn’t, it will have to be amended.

Three recruitment steps

  • Set up a budget for the recruitment process, which will generate expenses including staff time, advertisements, the fees of a recruitment firm, and travel for candidates.
  • Set up telephone interviews for screening, with a script of questions and topics to be covered. By describing your practice and the community in which it is located, you can screen out candidates who would not be happy with what you have to offer.
  • Check references, credentials, and history before making in-person appointments for the shortlisted candidates.

Now what about the spouse?

A spouse can be the deciding factor in whether a candidate accepts an offer. Set a separate itinerary for the spouse during the visit and cover elements that will affect that person, particularly career placement.

Put the spouse in touch with representatives of his or her profession.

Waste no time

Another neglected part of recruitment is time. Don’t waste it. Have a contract complete with partnership terms and starting salary ready to give to the doctor at the end of the visit.

Wait two weeks to make an offer, and some of the charm will have worn off. The candidate loses interest or accepts another offer.

You need to create a sense of urgency

Tell the candidate the office needs an answer within two days. Urgency carries the message that the office is growing and needs to move forward with its hiring. By contrast, give a candidates a few months to decide and the message is that the doctor isn’t important to the practice and maybe there’s not much future with the office after all.

Due diligence

Reference checks sometimes get neglected. Don’t skip the references no matter how wonderful the doctor seems. Don’t gloss over negative observations either.

Tell it all

Finally there is the matter of honesty. If the office is experiencing financial trouble, say so. There is no need for everyone involved in the interview process to talk about it. Have just one person in your practice address it and explain what the office is doing to solve the problems.

To bring in a doctor without revealing the problems not only creates dissatisfaction but can generate legal claims.

Candidate bonus questions

  • Where do you want to live?
  • Do you expect to be homesick if you move here?
  • Are there any circumstances or relationships that can interfere with relocating?

Editor’s picks:

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