Archive for Monday, November 27, 2006

Hospital recruiting a whole new game

LMH president sees doctor shortage as growing challenge

November 27, 2006

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Maybe Bill Self isn't the top recruiter in town after all.

Sure, the Kansas University basketball coach has recruiting classes that are consistently ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Sure, his recruits can jump out of the gym or drain 23-foot jump shots.

But how many of his players have saved a life?

That's the type of talent Gene Meyer, president and chief executive of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, is looking to recruit. Meyer is the top recruiter of physicians in Lawrence, working to hire doctors for LMH and assist local medical practices with their recruiting efforts.

And it is not a stretch to say that recruiting physicians has become as competitive as attracting top NCAA basketball prospects.

"In most physician specialties, there are pretty significant shortages," Meyer said. "If a physician is looking at an opportunity in Lawrence, he or she probably has job opportunities in at least 10 to 12 other communities."

Doctor demand

There are a lot of factors leading to a tight supply of doctors, said Cindy Samuelson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Hospital Association.

Some of them are obvious, such as an aging population that is creating more demand for health care services. Others, though, have more to do with a new generation of doctors. Both Samuelson and Meyer said it is a widely held belief in the industry that more young doctors are choosing to work less than full-time hours.

"It is part of that whole generation of individuals coming out of school," Samuelson said. "They don't live to work; they work to live. It is different than the (baby) boomer generation that worked, worked, worked and that is all they wanted to do."

Samuelson, though, said some young people also may be choosing to take a pass on the once highly prestigious career of medicine because it has become clearer that it isn't everything it is made out to be in television shows.

"These have always been lucrative careers where everybody wanted to be," Samuelson said. "It may be that they are not quite as desirable as they used to be because there is an awful lot of red tape to deal with. There is a lot of regulation when it comes to getting payment and dealing with insurance companies."

Signs of a doctor shortage are starting to show up in statistics. According to a report prepared for the Kansas Hospital Association this year, the consulting firm The MHA Group estimates that by 2020 the country will have 200,000 fewer physicians than are needed to provide service.

Meyer said Lawrence is almost certain to get caught up in that shortage because the city has a significant number of physicians who are near retirement age.

"In 10 years, I think there will be a huge need for additional physicians in Lawrence," Meyer said, estimating that virtually every practice in town will be looking to recruit doctors during that time. "But we can't wait until 10 years from now to start filling it."

Quality of life

That means folks like Meyer will need to sharpen their recruiting skills. Meyer said he and his Lawrence colleagues have to sell the community's intangibles. That's because Lawrence physician salaries generally are considered to be below the national averages, which range from about $150,000 per year for family practice doctors to nearly $400,000 per year for radiologists.

In addition to salaries, doctors are offered incentives, but that can be a game in which smaller communities have a tough time competing with larger cities. According to the MHA report, nearly all doctors are offered relocation expenses, and it is not uncommon for young doctors to have some of their student loans forgiven.

In Lawrence, there's also usually one other big point of negotiation, Meyer said.

"Basically anybody we interview with KU ties wants to know whether they can get KU basketball tickets," Meyer said.

KU likely is one of Lawrence's best recruiting tools for doctors, said Dr. David Goering, who began working last year as an LMH hospitalist, providing inpatient care.

Goering, who spent time in Iowa, Wisconsin and Topeka before joining LMH, said Lawrence has an advantage over other communities because many doctors like to practice near their hometown or medical school.

"You know, I went to KU for 12 years, so I really love the school and the area," Goering said.

Meyer said the fact Lawrence is a one-hospital community also is an attraction for many doctors, especially those who come from major metropolitan areas where they are used to doing rounds at five or six hospitals.

"We offer some real advantages from a lifestyle standpoint," Meyer said.

Gratifying process

In Meyer, Lawrence has a recruiter who has been around the block a couple of times. He was a longtime hospital executive in Kansas City before joining LMH in the late 1990s.

"I actually do like recruiting a lot," Meyer said. "I have done it for a long time, and I like to do it because I'm proud of what we represent. It is very gratifying when a physician chooses Lawrence over a lot of other communities."

But Meyer isn't yet ready to start giving Self any recruiting tips.

"I don't know, he might still be better," Meyer said of Self's recruiting prowess. "He did pretty well with Darrell Arthur. We could use a couple of Darrell Arthur M.D.s."

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