Bringing the Best Doctors Up North: Inside Munson Healthcare’s Approach to Recruiting

REGION – Whether you're a Fortune 500 company, a championship sports team or a Mom and Pop retail shop, it's important to recruit top-notch people.

It's no different at Munson Healthcare, the region's largest employer, where a renewed emphasis on recruiting quality physicians is underway.

"A lot of our recruiting – the initial contact – is Internet based now," says Dr. David McGreaham, M.D., vice president of medical affairs at Munson Medical Center, who oversees the hospital's physician recruitment. "We have recruiters who are combing data bases and going out on the road to job fairs and specialty meetings looking for qualified physicians."

Deb Glicker is the hospital's director of physician services and recruitment. She and senior physician recruiter Tracey Kukla-Aleshire are a two-person team working to fill physician needs for the Munson Healthcare system. They use traditional methods like placing ads in medical journals and making phone calls in search of qualified specialists that Munson needs.

But they are also using online services more than ever before.

"In addition to traditional recruitment tools like database sourcing, career fairs and conferences, we are also developing a more robust social media strategy," says Glicker. "Many of the physicians we are recruiting are very savvy and avid users of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn."

Another recruitment tool is developing affiliations with medical schools throughout Michigan. Munson also keeps contact with area medical students and residents who are interested in health care careers, according to McGreaham. "We want to stay in touch with people from our region who are currently in training," he says. "We're creating a database of medical students. We believe one of our best sources of recruiting is our own kids."

Attracting specialty physicians is always a challenge, according to McGreaham. Among the specialties that Munson currently is recruiting:

– Cardiac surgery

– Dermatology

– Urology

– Infectious Disease

– Psychiatry

– Rheumatology

One method that Munson is using the retain physicians is to directly employ the practitioners. McGreaham estimated that roughly 10 percent of Munson's 400 physicians are now directly employed by the hospital, including a team of cardiologists at Traverse Heart and Vascular who were recently enlisted.

"Five years ago we had very few physicians directly employed," says McGreaham. "We've always employed a variety of sub specialists, like rheumatology and infectious disease. But we're doing it in other areas now."

He says it isn't always easy to lure doctors to northern Michigan. Among the reasons: Incomes in other parts of country are higher, not everyone is looking for a small- to medium-sized community, and rural communities always have a harder time recruiting physicians than do urban settings. "At times it can be challenging to find a job for spouse in a smaller area," he says, citing a survey of physicians prepared by Medicus Firm, of Atlanta, Ga. that showed:

– 32 percent prefer to work in a suburban area within 30 minutes of a major metro area

– 28 percent prefer to work in a major metro area of 500,000 people or more

– 23 percent prefer to work in a mid-sized city of 100,000 to 499,999

– 12 percent prefer to work in a small city of 25,000 to 99,999

– 5 percent prefer to work in a small town or rural area of less than 25,000

Munson often faces another challenge to drawing physicians to Grand Traverse, Cadillac and Grayling: the lack of ethnic diversity. In many specialties there are foreign born or foreign-trained graduates who prefer to practice in ethnically diverse communities.

Michigan's overall economic situation is also a major factor. Hospitals across the state are having difficult times attracting qualified physicians, in part because of the reimbursement numbers. In 2009 the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation found that Michigan's Medicaid reimbursement rates were significantly lower than average. Despite all those impediments, McGreaham says once a physician visits Traverse City there's a good chance the doctor will at least consider coming to Munson. The city's vibrant downtown, excellent facility and medium-sized community are attractive to many practitioners.

"Traverse City has a lot going for it," he notes. "A lot of physicians really want to live in a town this size. And a hospital this size is also very appealing."

If Munson finds a quality prospect is truly on the fence, it might offer a different financial model – one that could include signing bonuses, an income guarantee for one or two years, and moving allowances. Those are offered on a case-by-case basis, says McGreaham: "We have a recruiting plan, and we often know going in who we have to throw in extra support for."

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