Inventiveness pays off for low desert recruiter

Finding qualified practitioners takes creativity

You work in the low desert of Southern California at a hospital that serves 60,000 people in a 1,600 square-mile area. You have hired search firms to find doctors for you, thinking they would find qualified candidates who are tired of the crime and grime of Los Angeles, who want to get away from the traffic and crowds. But what you got was a long list of foreign qualified doctors whose training does not meet U.S. standards.

What do you do? Be inventive, and do it yourself, is the lesson illustrated by Sheri Beasley, executive assistant and physician recruiter at the Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree, CA. Two years ago, she was forced into a recruiting role because of problems attracting good candidates to the area.

The result: Last fall, she won honors in three of eight categories for the 1996-97 National Honors for Medical Staff Development, presented annually by the National Institute of Physician Recruitment and Retention (NIPRR) in Norcross, GA.

The awards began in 1991 and are given every autumn. Entries are judged by a panel of peers from around the country, as well as from faculty at the institute.

The lack of success using professional recruiters "proved that the recruiters just didn’t know us, our community, our market, and our needs," she says. The community services a large number of retirees, Beasley explains, so specialty needs include urologists, orthopedists, and general practitioners with experience with arthritis and pulmonary diseases. "It was obvious from what we were seeing that the recruiters weren’t working very hard to find a good match. Our results were just dismal."

Determination pays off

After attending the 1995-96 NIPRR symposium where the previous year’s awards were given, Beasley says she was determined to enter and gain some recognition the following year. "Sheri was new to the industry and proved she was motivated to learn from others and make things happen," Roger Bonds, president of the NIPRR, tells Physician Relations Update. "She studied the winners and took a lot of notes, and from her submissions, it was obvious she learned from them."

Beasley’s first triumph came from a video. She opted to create one — although they can cost from $1,000 to $3,000 per minute — because it can save on the expense of a site visit for a physician who may not be serious about moving to a rural desert community. Joshua Tree is 35 miles from Palm Springs, the nearest town of any size, and on the edge of Joshua Tree National Monument.

"We wanted to promote the fact that being rural, we are close to recreational opportunities," she says. But it also was important to be realistic in the presentation. "We couldn’t produce a video that gave some warped view of Joshua Tree. These people are making a commitment to us, so the video had to mesh with reality."

Beasley hired a firm in Cathedral City, CA, that had never done a health care video before. That initially created some problems. For example, in filming the emergency department, the crew had to wait for a quiet time. They also had to wait for physicians to be available for the testimonial portions of the film, Beasley says. "They found that a little difficult at first."

The whole video cost $19,000 — $15,000 for the 10 minutes of tape and $4,000 for other production costs, including video sleeves and mailing folders. Each of the 250 videos costs about $5 to mail.

Thus far, Beasley says, response has been positive. People who have viewed it and then come for a site visit have been impressed with the tape’s realism. It has also helped to screen out people who might not be interested in the rural setting.

Beasley’s second honor was in the recruitment sourcing category. The judges noted that "highly creative and effective direct mail is the backbone" of her submission. She chose a theme of "Rx for Success" — a slogan which appeared on the postcards, holiday greeting cards (see illustration, above), a pill bottle gift, and a second follow-up postcard. "We found these items to be inexpensive yet highly creative, which is a must for any recruitment program on a limited budget and in need of strong results," wrote the judges.

The bottle was cited as being particularly novel. It contains a rolled-up flier with photographs of the Joshua Tree area on one side and a teaser on why a candidate should consider Hi-Desert Medical Center on the other. It also contains some Joshua trees seeds. "We wanted to be different, and we wanted to take what was unique to our location and highlight it."

The total cost of the project was $9,360: $530 for 2,500 post cards, $6,700 for 5,000 pill bottles, $800 for greeting cards, $530 for follow-up cards, and $800 for personalized note cards.

The response rate for that investment has been impressive, with 9% of the materials sent drawing responses. That rate, says Beasley, is about double the return of most direct-mail campaigns. One site interview has been scheduled from the campaign.

Lastly, Beasley was honored in the cyberspace communications category. At one recruiting seminar, Beasley was told that by the end of this century, 65% of hospitals would have a Web site. She decided to create one for her hospital.

After attending classes, she decided it would be faster and easier to pay someone to create it, and by April 1996 — four months after she began — the site was up and running. The first responses came within a month, and she now gets about 100 "hits" per month. One inquiry has produced a top candidate for an open position.

The site is a basic home page with hyperlinks to other sites: personnel, physician opportunities, and community related sites. There is also a method for those viewing the site to send e-mail to Beasley.

"It helps us in recruiting because we aren’t contacting people blindly; they are contacting us and expressing interest." she says. And about half of those who respond to the site are new contacts who are not currently in Hi-Desert’s database.

Developing and maintaining the site is relatively inexpensive, she says: just $200 for the site creation cost, and about $60 per month for Internet access and site maintenance fees.

One change Beasley would make if creating the Web site today, however, is to pay an extra $1,000 to $2,000 per year to have a hospital-specific "domain." That would create a shorter Internet address than the current http://www.cci 29palms.com/users/hdmc.

Beasley says anyone with the desire can create marketing materials that bring in better candidates. "Being in-house can make a huge difference," she says. "You have a closer tie to the hospital and community. You know what you have in your community that you can sell."

She does have one suggestion, however. "Go to the [recruiting] boot camps and symposiums. Ask people at other facilities that are like yours what they do. They may not tell you, but you can ask. The goal is to be more creative than the competition."