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Hiring and retaining top physicians is a big priority for hospital administrators, and the competition for talent shows no signs of slowing. Aging baby boomers and rising life expectancy are putting greater demands on a healthcare system that's already stressed by a physician shortage. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there will be a shortage of 91,000 primary care physicians, surgeons and medical specialists by 2020.

The recruitment challenges that healthcare administrators and recruiters face, however, vary widely depending on location. Those in urban environments compete with other hospitals for doctors in the talent pool, while those in rural areas struggle to attract physicians at all. As a result, some healthcare organizations are looking beyond simple pay incentives to attract top talent.  

Big City Competition 

As the center of economic and cultural life, cities offer many recruiting benefits. Job seekers flock to cities for opportunities, giving companies a comparatively large pool of applicants to choose from. But there are drawbacks, too, including increased competition for the best talent. 

There are several leading healthcare organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, including hospitals affiliated with Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and the University of California, San Francisco, which is perennially named among the top hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

To lure top talent, healthcare companies are looking for ways beyond the paycheck to differentiate themselves. One example is One Medical Group, a healthcare company founded in 2005 in San Francisco to create a more personal, technology-driven experience for both patients and physicians eager for change. 

The company, which accepts most forms of insurance, requires patients to pay a $200 per year membership fee. In return, patients get a more personalized experience and spend more time with their physicians, who see fewer patients per day. One Medical physicians see a maximum of 16 patients daily, compared with the national average of 25, according to The New York Times. Other perks include direct email communication with doctors and same-day appointments.  

“Our providers see fewer patients and have time to engage in thoughtful decision-making,” says Dr. Andrew Diamond, an internal medicine specialist at One Medical in San Francisco. “Our team-based approach and virtual care options also gives providers a lot of support when it comes to caring for patients.”

One draw of the One Medical model is that it reduces the harried nature of the patient-physician relationship. A desire to help people, after all, is a reason many doctors get into the profession in the first place. One Medical Group also offers technology perks to create a closer relationship between patients and their doctors. In addition to direct email contact, patients can use Google Helpouts, a secure version of Google’s Hangout, for virtual care without having to travel to the doctor’s office.

“Physicians definitely appreciate these services, as it allows us to stay engaged with patients beyond the office visit,” Diamond says. 

Technologies that enable direct communication with physicians, and even virtual care through email and video, could be an increasingly important tool to recruit a new, younger generation of physicians. These technologies promise to make physicians’ jobs easier and offer flexibility for more work-life balance.  

“Tech-savvy Gen-Xers will embrace the flexibility technology gives them. Being able to work ‘on the go’ should help them balance their workday with family responsibilities and personal commitments," Dr. Robert Pearl, CEO of the Permanente Group, writes on Forbes. "Ultimately, the millennials will lead the way in adopting these 21st century tools.”

A Different Candidate for Small-Town Clinics 

Technology perks and new models for primary care aren’t the only ways that healthcare organizations attract doctors. Hospitals in rural communities, with little local talent to choose from, face a different challenge: how to compete with both well-paying urban hospitals and countless small-town community hospitals.  

One strategy is to target a different kind of physician entirely. The Ashland Health Center is a small hospital in Ashland, Kansas, a community of fewer than 1,000 people. It’s nearly a three-hour drive from Wichita, the nearest large city. To attract physicians to the small community hospital, CEO Benjamin Anderson decided to use a “reverse-recruitment model” to entice potential physicians, according to NPR. Anderson offers candidates an eight-week sabbatical to pursue missionary work around the world, a method he calls "mission-focused medicine." 

"I've always had to have a job that matters," Anderson tells NPR. "I have to have a position that I know it's not just a paycheck." And he seeks out physicians with a similar outlook. 

It’s a different pitch that doesn’t appeal to all physicians. And it doesn’t need to. The hospital might not be able to compete on facilities or pay, but the time off and chance to solve a different set of healthcare problems resonates with candidates of a certain mind. 

Photo: Can Stock