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Starter Tips for Increasing the Rural Healthcare Workforce and Improving Retention

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For decades the United States has been facing a shortage of healthcare providers. Researchers have attributed the scarcity of healthcare workers in the U.S. to several factors.  At its most basic, the ongoing shortage is a matter of supply and demand. While this deficiency is felt nationwide, its effects are often experienced more severely in rural areas.

With 47 percent of the rural market operating at a loss, innovation directed towards clinician recruitment and other healthcare professionals can be an additional task some hospitals and facilities choose to table. However, rural healthcare employers may find they can significantly improve care quality, population health, and operations by prioritizing recruitment.

Why is there a Physician Shortage in the U.S.?

In the past 20 years the U.S. population has increased by 100.7 million and shows no real signs of slowing. Additionally, between 1980 and 2016 the average American’s life expectancy has increased by a little over five years. An aging population with greater healthcare needs points to an increasing demand for more skilled healthcare workers.

Lumped in with an older general population is a percentage of doctors and physicians reaching retirement. Along with heightened demand, an aging physician population is also a fundamental driver of the national healthcare workforce shortage.

Projections say that at current national rates, by 2030 the shortfall of physicians will reach close to 105,000. Also by 2030, researchers forecast a 23 percent reduction in the rural physician workforce, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Rural America Needs Doctors

Urban or rural, everyone needs healthcare. However, it can be argued that there is a greater need for care professionals in rural America.

Of 7,200 regions nationwide designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration as Health Professional Shortage Areas, close to 60 percent are rural. Close to 20 percent of the American population reside in those counties designated as rural. The majority of rural residents also tend to be older and in poorer health.

There are several steps rural healthcare employers can take to approach clinician recruitment from a position of readiness rather than reactivity. By investing in teamwork, setting clear expectations, and smart planning, rural providers can begin to fill staffing shortfalls.

Tips on Rural Recruitment and Retention

“The market for healthcare professionals in general is extremely competitive, even more so at the rural level” says Mike Shimmens, Executive Director of the National Rural Recruitment and Retention Network (3RNet). “Rural healthcare employers who recruit best are the ones who are most organized and put recruitment up there alongside improving clinical and operational capabilities.”

Since 1995 3RNet has acted as a hub for rural employers seeking skilled healthcare professionals. The healthcare “job board” also acts as a resource for candidates. The non-profit rural recruitment and retention network is made up of job postings from various members of the healthcare industry as well as government agencies. Since its inception, the network has continued to grow.

In 2019, over 5,000 health professionals registered on 3RNet. 3RNet also helped over 2,500 health care professionals find jobs in rural and underserved areas across the country from October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018.

In addition to posting jobs, 3RNet also offers recruitment guidance to rural healthcare employers. 3RNet works closely with facilities seeking out-of-the-box methods for attracting and retaining the healthcare professionals they need.

“We take a practical approach to recruiting. Our philosophy is that there is both a science and an art to this process, meaning that there are best practices that can be followed, but there’s no secret for always ensuring success,” says Shimmens. “We still find that for rural providers to get a competitive edge, they need to get creative with recruitment and retention.”

Shimmens emphasizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to rural recruitment. He adds that a thoroughly planned recruitment process is essential. Shimmens also states that the process must be managed by a team and not a single individual. According to 3RNet, the most effective teams are made up of both internal resources and external community members.

3RNet has also established a four-part process for recruiting primary care givers in the rural setting. They believe this same foundational process can help set providers up for success in all areas of recruitment. The parts include:

  1. Planning and Preparation
  2. Sourcing for Candidates
  3. Screening Candidates
  4. Follow Up and Follow Through

“We emphasize the first part of this process because it’s often the one most overlooked,” added Shimmens. “It’s important to plan and make sure you’re ready for a new provider to join your team. I’ve seen over and over that planning and preparing – and having a full team effort behind this piece – is oftentimes the key to an organization’s recruitment success.”

Once this foundational process is in place, rural healthcare employer can then figure out how to add their own special touches. For example, a facility that is far removed from shopping centers may offer staff free Amazon Prime memberships or grocery delivery services. Shimmens also said that something basic such as well managed IT can be a recruitment, and even a retention tool.

“Most professionals assume there will be well managed IT. Although this may not seem like something that jumps out as a creative solution, it may be a strength that sets one organization apart from others as a potential employer,” says Shimmens.

Healthcare Information Technology (HIT): Part of the Recruitment and Retention Team

Some of the most successful businesses are those who empower their employees with top quality tools and support. An investment in a physician-centric HIT system can illustrate that a hospital is all-in on maximizing clinician satisfaction. And why not? Happier physicians often lead to improved care delivery and better outcomes for everyone.

Affordable access to scalable healthcare IT tools and services is one way MEDHOST helps rural providers succeed in a competitive recruitment landscape. For instance, rural providers can leverage an intuitive EHR (electronic health records) system as a way to attract and retain candidates.

MEDHOST can also help relieve pressures on rural providers and their staff with services like:

  • Cloud based EHR hosting which can free up time for IT teams.
  • Revenue cycle expertise to recover revenues and reduce denials.
  • Dedicated healthcare IT customer support that can help streamline clinical workflows.

The entire country is facing a healthcare professional supply and demand crisis. However, workforce projections are not set in stone. To turn the trend around it will take an industry wide effort from both rural and urban providers, as well as their healthcare partners.

MEDHOST is one of those healthcare partners ready to play a role. Find out how we help hospitals succeed by calling us at 1.800.383.6278.

To learn more about 3RNet visit them at

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