Recruiting Rural: A Needle in a Haystack

March 2, 2021

Rural Physicians Group’s mission is to bring healthcare excellence to rural communities, save and enhance the lives we touch, and ensure people have the hospitals and care they both need and deserve. As Vice President of Operations, one of my areas of oversight is recruiting, and we have grown to learn that it takes a special kind of provider to be successful in the rural setting. Our dedicated Recruitment Team knows this first-hand and is responsible for finding the “right fit” provider for each of our partner hospitals. A “right fit” provider for not only the hospitals RPG works with but also the rural setting in general must have compassion for rural communities, work in collaboration and alignment with the hospital and have the critical success factors and skillset to work in a rural community. For RPG, finding these providers for our partner hospitals is a top priority.

Our goal when recruiting is for our providers to become core team members of the hospital and be engaged in the community. Whether you are employing a physician, using locums, or partnering with a program like ours, finding an engaged individual who understands the nuances of rural medicine and culture is critical. In rural settings, physicians often have less access to specialty care support, work as a solo provider and need to be the “quarterback” of the team, so their skillsets need to be more advanced in both breadth and depth. Our hospitalists, for example, must be comfortable performing vent management, central lines, and intubations on their own.

COVID-19 has added an additional layer of difficulty for rural hospitals when it comes to recruiting. Providers who both understand the nuances of rural medicine and have the skillset to perform in the rural setting are needed now more than ever. Yet, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges we faced wasn’t just finding these providers – it was physically getting them to the hospitals. Navigating the ever-changing travel restrictions, state and local guidelines as well as varying hospital systems requirements did not prove to be an easy task.

Our team had to act quickly to get the most up-to-date clinical, travel, and essential worker information out to all our providers. Travel restrictions and the airlines cancelling flights became an issue in getting our providers to our partner hospitals. We had physicians stuck overseas that couldn’t travel and return to work. Some of our physicians with military obligations and/or obligations to hospitals near home were understandably not as available or available at all. State and local governments often had different guidelines on travel and essential workers. Our Operations Team worked quickly to shift providers’ schedules and process numerous emergency state license applications. In addition to the travel, governmental, and hospital specific challenges during this time, the risk of providers contracting COVID weighed personally on our minds and hearts as we worried for them and their safety.

Recruitment during this time became more challenging because we weren’t and aren’t the only group being impacted by COVID and searching for high-quality providers. Finding “right fit” providers during this time has sometimes felt like finding a needle in a haystack. But over the past year, we have learned that taking the time to do so is more important than ever.

-Nicole Morgan, MHA
VP of Operations, RPG

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