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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Lawhorn’s Lawrence: You thought recruiting a point guard was tough? Try recruiting a doctor

January 27, 2013

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From left, Dr. Sherri Vaughn, vice president of medical affairs at Lawrence Memorial Hospital; Dr. Robert Gorman; Sheryle D’Amico, vice president of the physicians division; and LMH CEO Gene Meyer talk Friday at the hospital. In the world of recruiting physicians, LMH wins its battles the old-fashioned way. It sells doctors on the community, on the medical staff, on the upgrades the hospital has made. “This has to be very near the top of the list of what we do,” Meyer said.

From left, Dr. Sherri Vaughn, vice president of medical affairs at Lawrence Memorial Hospital; Dr. Robert Gorman; Sheryle D’Amico, vice president of the physicians division; and LMH CEO Gene Meyer talk Friday at the hospital. In the world of recruiting physicians, LMH wins its battles the old-fashioned way. It sells doctors on the community, on the medical staff, on the upgrades the hospital has made. “This has to be very near the top of the list of what we do,” Meyer said.

All different types of emergencies happen at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, as you might imagine.

But perhaps one that hasn’t crossed your mind is when a staff member gets a call to go find a talking fish and take it to the hospital’s CEO.

Don’t feel bad if that one slipped up on you. Chances are, you don’t know a thing about recruiting a doctor.

Yes, come to find out, a talking fish can be quite helpful in the process. Yeah, we’re talking about the same type of talking fish. Those beautiful pieces of art where a plastic fish is mounted on a plaque. You push a button, the fish starts moving, and you find out that Billy the Bass is a baritone.

Gene Meyer, president and CEO of LMH, recalls that he was helping recruit one particular physician a few years ago. Somehow Meyer gets the extremely helpful piece of information that this doctor really likes talking fish. Meyer, of course, does what any good administrator would do. He gets his people working on finding a talking fish so that he can present it as gift to the doctor.

“It worked,” Meyer says with a smile.

Meyer didn’t mention what doctor in Lawrence is a talking fish aficionado, perhaps to preserve the integrity of a local practice. (If a singing fish is the last thing I hear before my surgeon puts me under ... )

Maybe that’s the secret to this whole recruiting thing. Maybe Bill Self has a drawer full of talking fish. No, the NCAA probably would find that, well, fishy.

But make no mistake, there’s no NCAA in the business of recruiting doctors.

“We can talk to our recruits, and we do,” said Sheryle D’Amico, one of LMH’s lead recruiters.

Sometimes LMH will spend time talking to high school students who plan to go into pre-med in hopes that they’ll keep LMH in mind after they complete medical school and residency more than a decade later.

The hospital also has been known to employ undergraduate students at the hospital in hopes that they’ll come back once they have their medical degrees. One new Lawrence doctor was once an admissions clerk at LMH, while another was a lab worker.

And helping the spouse of a doctor find a job is a pretty common occurrence — a big no-no with the NCAA but a big no-problem in the highly competitive business of physician recruitment.

How competitive?

“One of our cardiologists told me recently that he had 30 job opportunities besides ours,” Meyer said.

But perhaps the best sign of the ultra-competitive nature of the business are the actual signs. Dr. Sherri Vaughn, who also recruits physicians for the hospital, said she goes to recruitment fairs across the country and sees where hospitals have signs at their booths offering to pay $100,000 of student loans for doctors who sign on the dotted line.

Some will do more than that. D’Amico said she’s seen hospitals offer to buy a house for a doctor.

“They kind of just skip the cars and go right to the house,” she said.

D’Amico, vice president of the hospital’s physician division, and Vaughn, vice president of medical affairs, are the two LMH employees most frequently assigned to the recruiting trail. And it is a trail. Both said they make most of their calls on evenings and weekends because that’s the only time most doctors have to talk.

“On New Year’s Eve, I was on the phone recruiting an OB physician,” D’Amico said.

(In case you are wondering, there was agreement that endocrinologists generally are the hardest doctors to land. Who knew a doctor who treats diabetes and thyroid conditions is the equivalent of a top-ranked point guard?)

LMH does not give away houses or $100,000 in student loan repayments. The hospital wins its battles the old-fashioned way. It sells doctors on the community, on the medical staff, on the upgrades the hospital has made. The fact that Vaughn is still a practicing physician also is unique in the recruitment world and gets the hospital in a few doors it wouldn’t otherwise.

Sure, there are other things that would help. Almost every recruit — honestly — asks for KU season basketball tickets. Thus far, that’s not something the hospital offers. But they do get an unintentional boost from KU basketball occasionally.

“I was driving one physician’s family around, and we were on the west side of town,” Vaughn recalls. “We drove through Bill Self’s neighborhood, and there came Bill Self down the street. I thought the husband was about to jump out of the sunroof.”

That’s about the extent of Bill Self loaning his recruiting abilities to the hospital, but D’Amico and Vaughn said they do have a Bill Self-like presence in the process.

“He is the Bill Self,” D’Amico said about Meyer.

Granted, at this point in the interview, Meyer was just a thin Sheetrock wall away, and he had stuck his head in the interview about 10 minutes earlier and introduced the analogy.

But I really do think D’Amico and Vaughn meant it.

“He is the closer,” Vaughn said. “He is very good at this. When he starts talking, it becomes very clear that this is not a mom-and-pop shop.”

Meyer says he needs to be good at this. There are many things that must happen to build a high-quality hospital, but if you don’t recruit quality doctors, very little else matters.

“This has to be very near the top of the list of what we do,” Meyer said.

Who would have thought it? In this town, where there is a whole subset of Jayhawk fans who are experts on the next great eighth-grade basketball player at some private academy, there is a recruiting battle that happens here — month after month — that really can be a matter of life and death.

I know the next time I go to my doctor’s office, I’ll look at my doctor a bit differently, keeping an eye out for signs that he may have been a blue-chip recruit once.

But mainly, I’ll be listening for a talking fish.

Comments

Les Blevins 1 year, 2 months ago

The thought also occurs to me that if Lawrence had better name recognition and a better image across America it could perhaps recruit doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers a bit easier.

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Les Blevins 1 year, 2 months ago

With regard to the proposed sports complex; I would like to point out that for about half the money we are being led to believe would build this complex the city of Lawrence could be a primary force in enabling the world to address the climate issue that has recently become a front and center priority for the nation. I would also like to suggest that because Lawrence played a pivotal role in ending Slavery in this country is no reason for Lawrence to become complacent when it comes to moral issues. I would also like to point out that many $Trillions of dollars of property and billions of people are at risk from the destructive forces of climate change. I think due to these issues Lawrence voters should be asked to choose how they would like to proceed, toward an area sports complex or to enable humanity to achieve a somewhat greater level of sustainability and survive climate change in the remainder of the 21st Century.

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Kent Kossoy 1 year, 2 months ago

I was hoping to consider Lawrence 22 years ago but the local surgeon was saving any opening for his son once he finished residency. In fact I met at least 2 other surgeons who had been in practice there eventually leaving because of this surgeon. Hmm. Now you have a problem. Go figure!

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Ryan Neuhofel 1 year, 2 months ago

Nobody recruited me here! I feel like a sucker now. Thanks a lot Chad.

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toe 1 year, 2 months ago

It is difficult to recruit thinking people in a government entity. Now that medical care has been nationalized, expect hospitals to be competing with the post office and IRS for people.

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jhawk1998 1 year, 2 months ago

Why was this article even included in the newspaper? Just filler. All it tells us is that the hospital wants to recruit doctors but offers no incentives. No wonder the surrounding communities have higher-grade medical services.But we give tax breaks galore to apartment and hotel builders. That shows where our community priorities are. A significant number of our residents seek healthcare services as close as Topeka and Kansas City but as far away as the Cleveland and Mayo clinics. There is no reason a community of this size in this large of a metro area doesn't have higher quality physicians, particularly specialties.

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Bob Harvey 1 year, 2 months ago

Good article. Physician recruitment will only become more difficult as reimbursements continue to drop and fewer folk go into medicine because of the increasing administrative hassles and reductions in compensation. Primary care physicians will be in even more demand and fewer physicians enter this specialty.

LMH has does a great job over these past years bringing in quality physicians. Keep up the good work, as hard as it is.

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ctutgo 1 year, 2 months ago

What this article doesn't mention is, LMH turns down many physician applications as well. Getting approved to practice there is like getting top secret clearance for the government! It's almost as bad for nurses.

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smitty 1 year, 2 months ago

What besides talking fish does LMH provide as hiring "incentive"...or do we call it a hiring bonus? A talking fish is not an incentive to sign on the dotted line for a competent doctor. What ya trying to say? KU sports has nothing to do with this.

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