Personalized programs recruit candidates

Attracting staff to rural hospital requires finesse

Hays Medical Center is in the middle of Kansas, in a rural area that isn’t a strong magnet for recent medical school graduates considering how to build a career. In 1993, the hospital, which serves 120,000 people in the Northwestern part of the state, had just one family practitioner and no pediatricians. According to Karen Cook, RN, BSN, director of medical staff development, general surgeons and internists had to fill in the gaps for the community.

"We had to do something," she recalls. The hospital developed a recruiting plan and worked aggressively for the next year. The result was five family practitioners and three pediatricians that gave the center some "breathing room." The efforts also won Cook an award from the National Institute of Physician Recruitment and Retention (NIPRR) of Norcross, GA, in the turnaround category. "Once we finished with the initial recruiting, we could focus on the strategic needs of the hospital."

The result of that strategic planning is 42 new doctors — 19 in the last 12 months — a $24 million expansion plan for the facility, the addition of a major cardiology center, and another award. Nominated by the area Chamber of Commerce and Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development, Cook won the Success Story honor at the NIPRR 1996-97 awards.

"I think we won because we are so good at the personal things," she says. "Being in rural Kansas, it’s hard to get people interested over the phone."

Relax, and get to know us

So Cook starts out with a basket delivered to the candidate’s home. It contains a video about the hospital and the community, gourmet coffee, and a mug. The message: Relax over a cup of coffee, and see what we have to offer. The video emphasizes that Hays is the home of Fort Hays State University and its 6,000 students. The area offers many big city amenities, such as performing arts, and the number one division two basketball team, but without big city problems, she says.

Once a site visit is arranged, the personal attention continues. The physician and his or her family are met at the airport. In the hotel, there is a fruit basket supplied by the convention and visitors bureau. Not only do the physicians have full schedules, but Cook makes sure spouses and families are kept busy as well.

"That always surprises them," she says. "Most of the wives figure they will be on their own in the hotel or wandering around the town. But we take care of them and make them feel very welcome and wanted."

The entire staff of the hospital is involved in the site visit of candidates. There are welcome receptions and informal coffees, and Cook says she ensures that the candidates meet as many of the physicians as possible during their stay. "We make especially sure they meet the people whose work overlaps with theirs," she says.

Cook has four other tips for recruiters trying to make their programs more effective.

Know your staff.

Knowing her own medical staff ensures that Cook is aware of their needs and concerns. This helps her to look for appropriate people who will meet the needs of both the community and the hospital staff. "You have to know who is pro-growth and who isn’t, who needs partners and who doesn’t. And you have to be familiar enough with your staff that they feel comfortable telling you what they think and what they need," Cook says. To facilitate that familiarity, Cook often socializes with the staff, even holding dinner parties at her home in order to get to know them better.

Be there for the physicians.

"The job doesn’t end when recruits sign on the dotted line," she warns. Hospital physician practice managers liaise weekly with the medical staff to ensure that a new staff member’s transition is smooth. "It is important to know what the doctors are saying about the whole process," Cook says. "You can learn important lessons about what you can do better the next time, and you can make sure that the promises you make to a candidate are kept."

Let candidates know what to expect of other staff.

If there is a physician on staff who has a brusque manner, let the candidate know the doctor is that way. "Otherwise, they may get discouraged," says Cook. Knowing about the personalities — and personality quirks — of your medical staff and administration can help a recruit put his or her best foot forward.

Have a prospect sign a pre-application letter early in the process.

The letter that Cook uses allows her to start referencing early in the process. (See sample of letter, p. 40.) It speeds up the hiring — or the disqualification — of staff significantly.

Cook says her success and that of her department is built on a simple strategy followed by the entire hospital: high satisfaction, high quality, best people, low cost.