Physician Recruitment During and Post COVID-19 Era, New Challenges

Despite more than 30 years of leading and managing physician recruitment efforts for a national physician management company and children’s hospital, I never thought I would have to evaluate recruitment strategies before and after a worldwide pandemic like COVID-19.  Most organizations recognize that even through difficult times, physician employment and overall alignment strategies are investments that must continue if they are to survive and thrive in a competitive health care environment.   Physician recruitment has always been a coordinated and delicate dance, but during and post COVID-19 the process will need to radically change.

Pre-COVID-19, recruitment largely consisted of the identification of candidates based on their specialty and experience. Once candidates were identified by a recruiter for appropriate background and experience, our medical directors would complete an initial cursory telephone interview and decide if the candidate was a good fit for the organization’s needs and culture.  We then would invite the candidate for a visit and include their spouse or significant other.  Arrangements would be made for the candidate to go out with a realtor to look for a home, apartment, schools for their kids, and other community touch-points.  Candidates and their significant other would be “wined and dined” to assure we could get to know the candidate better and showcase the organization and team. At times under special circumstances we would bring candidates back for a 2nd or 3rd visit.

Under our “new normal”, processes have changed.  In preparation for writing this article I called a former colleague and friend, Joseph Bogan, President of Providence Healthcare Group, a physician recruitment service, to see how he was seeing the practices in the industry change.  First and foremost, he reminded me that during the months of January through May, most new physicians would have already made a final decision as to where they would start their new careers.  He emphasized that the pandemic has been a major disruptor, particularly during these crucial months. Some states have been under quarantine since February.  In person interviews of physicians during this difficult time have been next to impossible.

In general, as this pandemic has progressed, we continue to hear about employees being furloughed, CEOs and senior leaders taking pay cuts, and organizations pushing out hiring decisions.  Additionally, decisions to postpone capital projects may mean physician offices, new ambulatory centers, surgical centers, or the home of a new service line will not occur as planned. The issue is that providers will need to bring back volume, and to do this the recruitment efforts must continue. Most organizations realize that continued physician recruitment is the type of investment they will have to make even in difficult times, because if they do not someone else will!

As we move along the continuum of the pandemic and until there is a vaccine or testing to assure immunity, most healthcare professionals may be sensitive to travel and on-site interviews.   Furthermore, there is little doubt that performing initial interviews via skype or other virtual mediums will lower expenses.  Facing our new reality, we need to accept that during and following this crisis, most recruitment interviews may need to be performed via Skype, Zoom, Facetime or some other virtual platform.   Virtual interviews will serve two major purposes, safety, and economic discipline.  Physicians in general have been moving towards a telehealth platform, but most recruitment efforts had a large in-person component until now.  During the COVID-19 crisis, the telehealth flood gates opened making the familiarity with telehealth equipment, the “new normal” and thus the ‘virtual’ recruitment process easier.

Will you hire a physician, or better yet will a physician accept a job without ever visiting the facility? These are difficult questions and major strategies need to be initiated to assure your physician workforce remains stable.  One size or one strategy may not fit all for this task.  Key policies and procedures need to be initiated to assure you can attract, screen, interview and hire the right physician.  Your policies should be inclusive of appropriate background checks, interview etiquette, standard interview questions, and in some cases personality testing.  Partnering with your legal, human resource, and marketing teams will be essential.   The panel interviewing the candidates need to be carefully selected and trained to assure you have an equitable and fair interview process.   Then there is the need to conduct candidate reference interviews or statements. During this time, you may want to consider reference interviews virtually as well.  This will also require input from your human resource and legal teams.

You will need to re-create the way you showcase your organization and the local community.  You will need to be imaginative and work with your marketing department, local Chamber of Commerce, School Districts, and other organizations on how to develop virtual materials to share with candidates about your facility, city, and state.

A physician workforce is a critical component of a healthy organization’s ecosystem, and the COVID-19 crisis will most likely change the physician recruitment landscape now and in the future.  Although many days may seem frantic, now is the time to plan for and adjust recruitment efforts.  Recruitment of the right physician workforce is a foundational component of each business plan. Envision Better Health, LLC is revising recruitment policies and procedures, background check questionnaires, virtual interview techniques and marketing/resource materials.  Connect with us at info@envisionbetterhealth.org.

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2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Excellent article and obviously a timely one. Somewhat unexpectedly, we have seen a significant spike in physicians asking if we have practices with open positions that are still interviewing. When you think about it, these physicians (including some 2020 graduates) are in an awkward situation in that regard. Many physicians are still seeking practices to call home this summer so your suggestions are very helpful.
    Joe Bogan
    President
    Providence Healthcare Group

    • Natalia Cruz

      Reply

      Thanks Joe, do think that health systems and practices are being careful as they start up but eventually positions will start opening back up.

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