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Community Health Centers: Overcoming the Primary Care Physician Challenge

Wednesday, January 8, 2020   (0 Comments)
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Written By: Jackson Physician Search

Considering that more than 70% of our nation’s Community Health Centers (CHCs) report having at least one physician vacancy, already underserved populations may soon be facing a crisis. As you well know, CHCs provide much more than just primary care services – they have become integral to providing comprehensive care services for millions of residents in America’s smaller communities and rural towns. Today’s ongoing primary care physician shortage is threatening this care, requiring CHC administrators to find more creative ways of attracting and retaining physicians.

In years past, CHCs were able to offer physicians quality of life benefits that were exclusive to community health systems, such as no call, no weekends, and student loan reimbursements. But today, these same benefits are being touted by larger systems and metropolitan hospitals. Now, CHCs have to compete with larger systems that can offer higher salaries and larger sign-on bonuses. With a shrinking candidate pool and diminishing quality of life differentiators, the key for CHC administrators is to ensure that every physician hire is made with retention in mind. The best way to accomplish that is to focus on hiring physicians who are a cultural fit within the organization. First, let’s examine how CHC administrators can make sure their organizations are recruitment ready to hire for fit.


Build Your Brand. In a 2018 Jackson Physician Search survey of FQHC administrators, almost 62% of the CEOs cited the importance of highlighting organizational goals while marketing vacancies, yet, less than 25% of FQHCs have a fully developed marketing plan. The importance of developing an organizational brand cannot be understated. When your organization becomes known for fostering a healthy work environment and exhibits attractive values and a positive culture, it will stand out to an entirely new tier of candidates that may not have considered CHC opportunities.

Maximize Local & Regional Partnerships. Many CHCs already have access to local residents through exclusive training partnerships. For those centers that have yet to develop a relationship with local and regional academic institutions, you are missing out on keeping local talent in the community. Robust community relationship building should be a key component of your brand strategy and building awareness for local candidates who may want to return to the area. You can cater to regional medical students by inviting them to tour the facility, providing shadowing opportunities, introducing them to your workplace culture, all of which lead to a larger pool of candidates and increased visibility in the regional market.

Have a Pre-search Plan. Being recruitment ready means having a plan in place for your vacancy. Clearly define the position and, most importantly, have an understanding of what the ideal candidate is going to look like. Focus on the qualities and skills that will set the candidate up for success, and understand how potential candidates should fit culturally within your work environment. Lastly, gain a consensus from all key stakeholders about what an offer for this position will include. The fastest way to lose great candidates is to make them wait on your offer because you are waiting on approval.

Put Your Best Interview Team Forward. It is critical to keep in mind that while you are interviewing potential candidates, they are scrutinizing you just as closely. Fill out your interview team with the individuals who best represent your organizational culture and values. When you hire for fit, you want like-minded candidates to feel a connection and have an intrinsic understanding of the type of workplace culture you are fostering. Each interview team member should have a clearly defined responsibility, for example, who will be the main point of contact, who is planning the site visit, who will share the organizational vision, and so on. An interview should be set up to cater to each individual and be reflective of that candidate’s needs and motivations.

Don’t Drop the Ball. No matter how successful the interview and site visit may seem, it can all be lost in the blink of an eye. Physicians often receive up to 40 job opportunities per month, meaning you need to have a firm commitment to the timeline for delivering a verbal offer, followed by the contract. As mentioned in the pre-search plan, key stakeholders should not be surprised by anything in the initial offer and should be committed to expedient responses if anything arises during the negotiations.

Retention Starts During Recruitment. When you commit to a recruitment strategy that focuses on finding physician candidates who fit your organization, rather than hiring to fill a vacancy, you have already begun long-term retention. That is why it is so important to keep the momentum of the hire going through the onboarding process and beyond. When you have found a candidate who believes in the values and mission of the organization, don’t allow that physician to become disillusioned by throwing him/her into the fire without a proper onboarding process. Another key consideration is having an established process for staying in touch with candidates and keeping them engaged when there is a long lead time between when they finish training and join your team. This has to occur from the point of acceptance through onboarding to ensure that you are taking care of the physician’s needs, but just as importantly, considering the family throughout the move to a new community.


For CHCs in today’s ultra-competitive physician recruitment environment, there isn’t one specific strategy that can guarantee success. The playing field isn’t level, and may not ever be, which is why the groundwork has to be laid for an all-encompassing strategy to find, recruit, hire, and retain primary care and specialty providers. The best way to stay in the game is to foster a healthy culture and find candidates who are intrinsically aligned with that culture. When you hire for fit, physicians are naturally more engaged, more productive, suffer less burnout, and less likely to seek other opportunities.

Download the 30-point “Ready to Recruit Checklist” for community health centers before you launch your next physician search.


If you’d like to speak with a recruitment expert, please contact Lisa Shebaro, Director of Business Development, Jackson Physician Search at lshebaro@jacksonphysiciansearch.com or call 469.909.6677.




NWRPCA welcomes and regularly publishes white papers and articles submitted by members, partners and associates with subject matter expertise. The appearance of any guest publication in our Health Center News database represents the views of the author and does not constitute endorsement by NWRPCA of the stated opinions or perspectives, nor does it suggest endorsement of the contributor's products or services.

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