By Anne Polta, West Central Tribune, October 3, WILLMAR – Since the start of the year, more than a dozen new doctors have joined Carris Health in specialties ranging from hospital medicine and anesthesiology to podiatry, urology and ophthalmology. The roster of advanced practice professionals is being swelled with new nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
According to Dr. Cindy Smith, Carris Health co-chief executive, the number of new starts is “the highest it’s ever been.”
Carris Health leaders can’t say for sure whether the spike in recruitment success is due to the Jan. 1 launch of Carris Health, a merger of Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Rice Memorial Hospital into a new nonprofit subsidiary of CentraCare Health.
But they think it may have helped.
“We feel maybe we’ve gotten some looks we wouldn’t have otherwise had,” said Mike Schramm, co-CEO. “We certainly think it doesn’t hurt.”
Of the many potential advantages sought with the creation of Carris Health, shoring up the region’s health care professional workforce was cited often during merger discussions last year.
“The goal was to put us in a more powerful recruiting position,” Smith said.
Workforce needs are still acute, she and Schramm said. Even with all the new hires, openings remain unfilled in many areas.
“We still have needs, particularly in the area of primary care,” Smith said. “We have to constantly be thinking about recruitment. We’re working on it all the time.”
With a large number of physicians reaching retirement age in the next few years, the need will become increasingly urgent, she said.
But coming together as Carris Health has created new opportunities to address workforce issues and to try some different strategies, said Smith and Schramm.
“Recruitment and retention in general is such a huge issue,” Schramm said.
For starters, a physician and professional services division has been formed, establishing an entire team to focus on recruitment and retention.
An onboarding program is being developed to help new doctors feel comfortable when they arrive and start seeing patients.
Those first few years in practice can make a difference in whether a physician stays or leaves, especially for young physicians, Smith said. “Generally if they stay for five years, they tend to stay for their career.”
Research consistently shows that a homegrown approach to the rural health care workforce has the best chance of success, so Carris Health has started exploring a scholarship program for local students interested in returning to their hometown for a career in health care, and how scholarships might be funded.
“We want to start the process and we want to get the communities involved as well,” Smith said.
A need also has been identified for a clearinghouse that can connect local employers with health care professional spouses, many of whom have careers of their own and are more likely to be attracted to a community that offers suitable employment opportunities for both spouses.
Another piece of the strategy: expanding the role of advanced practice professionals and what they bring to patient care.
A project is underway to create teams of doctors and advanced practice professionals who can work together to manage a panel of patients. Advantages include quicker access for the patient, better coverage when someone on the team has to be absent, and greater ability for doctors to concentrate on the most complex patients, Smith said.
“We figure we can optimize everybody’s individual talents. We have a number of teams that are working really well together,” she said. “Advanced practice professionals have been really valuable contributing members of the team.”
Carris Health can’t fix rural geography, which remains a barrier for workforce prospects who would rather live near amenities such as cultural attractions, nightlife and professional sports venues, Smith said.
“The challenges we’ve always had have remained a challenge,” she said. “Geography is our best selling point but it’s also one of our hurdles.”
Overall, though, Carris Health leaders believe the new entity has breathed fresh life into recruitment and retention, especially for an up-and-coming generation of younger doctors who seek the security and sustainability that can be found with a larger organization. They’re optimistic that a new branding campaign, slated to launch next year, will further promote their new identity and help them stand out from the crowd.
Schramm is hopeful that current hiring trends will continue.
“We have seen some positive traction, we think,” he said.