Is there a Doctor in the House?

Recruiting Quality Medical Professionals

| 2015 Q3 | story by EMILY MULLIGAN | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |

Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH) is one of the biggest employers in Douglas County, so the hospital is perpetually in recruitment mode for workers to keep it running around the clock.

The recruitment process for physicians is lengthy and extensive, as the hospital must ensure it hires doctors who not only meet the patients’ needs but also fulfill the community’s needs for all of the various specialties. Nurses are in high demand, and LMH must compete for both new and experienced nurses to staff all three shifts and outpatient clinics.

CEO

For the first time in 18 years, LMH is embarking on a search for a new CEO to replace Gene Meyer, who will retire effective May 31, 2016.

Rob Chestnut, outgoing chair of the LMH Board of Trustees, has been appointed chairperson of LMH’s CEO search committee. The committee will work in cooperation with executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, which was selected by the Board of Trustees, to search, refine and ultimately select candidates to replace Meyer as CEO.

“Gene has been especially great for this community, because the hospital had significant challenges when he came to lead it,” Chestnut says. “He took this hospital and made it one of the best in the country.”

He says his role as chair of the search committee will be a facilitation of the process, and he plans to make sure the committee’s work is as transparent as possible. He has spoken with other board chairs of hospitals that have conducted CEO searches in order to follow some of the best practices in the process.

The committee has not established a time line yet but will set regular meetings, all of which will be open meetings for the community.

Chestnut credits Meyer with creating a “tremendous” executive staff, many of whom have worked for LMH for 10 years or more.

“Great leaders can make an organization transition to something else, and what they leave behind will get better from there; and that is what Gene has done,” Chestnut says.

Physicians

It is no small feat to hire a doctor. It takes an average of nine to 15 months from the beginning of the recruiting process through interviews, negotiations, finishing school or finishing up at their previous practice, and arriving on site to learn the lay of the land.

Dr. Sherri Vaughn is a family practice physician with Total Family Care and is in charge of recruiting physicians to LMH, a responsibility she has held for the past seven years. Since 2012, she has helped recruit 59 doctors to Lawrence, mostly to the LMH system but also to private practices that requested recruitment assistance. In 2015 alone, 14 new physicians have joined LMH and practices in Lawrence.

With the lengthy time line for each recruit, plus all of the details involved with seeking out, researching, planning interviews and coordinating visits for candidates, Vaughn dedicates a great deal of time and effort for each position.

But the actual recruitment process is only part of the job—it all begins with extensive research, a strategic plan called the Physician Manpower Plan, which Vaughn herself undertook in 2008 and now updates monthly along with a consultant. The strategic plan includes criteria, such as Lawrence and Douglas County census figures, and age and demographics of local residents, and meshes those with current numbers of physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in each specialty. The plan also accounts for factors like Lawrence’s large college-aged population and planned retirements for local physicians.

From that information, Vaughn must determine how many doctors are needed and in which specialties so she can begin the recruiting process.

Recruiting physicians is not as simple as placing a help-wanted ad. In fact, there are for-profit businesses whose purpose is to compile databases of physicians that are searchable for everything from specialty and schooling to hobbies and interests. Also, recruiting firms will provide curricula vitae to hospitals and earn a fee of $18,000 to $35,000 per hire that comes as a result of their service, Vaughn says.

Because LMH is a nonprofit community hospital, Vaughn takes the most cost-effective routes possible to embark on each search. She puts out word through LMH physicians so they can inform their colleagues of upcoming searches. She also searches databases for current and resident physicians who have a Kansas connection, and sends fliers to residency programs at medical schools in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. And, occasionally, Vaughn will get lucky, and doctors will call her and LMH asking if there are openings in their specialty.

Vaughn emphasizes that even if their training and specialty match up, and their qualifications match all the requirements, that may not be enough to receive an offer from LMH.

“We are picky; we turn people down. That is not a fun part of my job. Physicians are not used to being turned down. We want the right fit, the right mix for each practice and the high caliber of physicians that we have at LMH,” Vaughn says.

As with any job, candidates have a lot of questions about what the job entails. They obviously want to know what the salary and benefits are for the position, but Vaughn says finding out what their on-call requirements are is one of the biggest questions, as well as how much time they will spend in the operating room versus the clinic. She says she tries to paint a picture of “a day in the life” of the practice for the candidates, something she knows well herself having been in practice in Lawrence for 17 years.

Before she answers their questions, though, Vaughn likes to ask a couple of her own.

“I ask people what they are looking for first. We want a good match, so I want to hear from them. We want people who will come here and stay here, because you get the best care from seeing the same person over a long time—that makes a big difference in health care,” she says.

Once Vaughn narrows the candidates down, she brings them to Lawrence for a site visit, typically about two days. She schedules interviews with herself and the CEO, a tour of the hospital and facilities, and meetings with the candidate’s potential new partners and other LMH physicians. She also makes a point to have the candidates stay in a hotel downtown and take a driving tour of Lawrence, which she works to tailor to the candidate and their family and interests. Vaughn spares no detail so the candidates can picture themselves living in Lawrence.

“I’ve taken people’s kids to paint ceramics; I’ve taken kids to the pumpkin patch. My nanny has babysat kids while the candidate goes to dinner,” she says.

Dr. Blake Conklin is a general surgeon who moved with his wife and toddler to Lawrence last summer and was recruited while he was a resident in advanced GI and bariatrics at LifeBridge Health-Northwest Hospital/Sinai Hospital, in Maryland. He attended the University of Kansas as an undergraduate, and he and his wife are from Topeka and Kansas City, respectively, so coming to work at LMH allowed them to return to their home state.

Although the proximity to his and his wife’s families was nice, Conklin says the people in his practice were one of the main reasons he chose to come here.

“Having partners that work together and help each other out—being in a community hospital, sometimes you need to know who you’re working with. Finding out that they were fantastic people, willing to go the extra mile to help out—finding that balance is not always easy in general surgery,” he explains.

He says his wife also wanted to live somewhere she would have fun places to go, both for herself and their child.

“I think Dr. Vaughn does a phenomenal job of getting you plugged into those places. It’s just as important as the hospital,” Conklin says.

Nurses

Nurses are in high demand all across the country, and Lawrence is no exception. The only twist to LMH’s recruitment of nurses, LMH Recruitment Manager Andrew Brookens says, is that Lawrence is also in demand as a place to live.

Essentially, LMH does not have to go to nurses as much to convince them to work at the hospital as nurses have to come to LMH to try to have the opportunity to work there, he says.

With 400 registered nurses, 40 licensed practical nurses and more than 30 nurse practitioners for the 173-bed hospital, there are a lot of people to coordinate for shifts and specialties.

“We see a lot of traffic here for people desiring to live and work in Lawrence,” Brookens says. “This community is one of our biggest recruitment tools. We have the conveniences of a larger city, but still at LMH, we have maintained the culture of a smaller community. People really get on board with that.”

Still, Brookens continues to build relationships and form a pipeline for well-trained nurses, both recent graduates and those with experience, to find a position at LMH.

“We are looking for their values to align with ours—we want us to be a good fit for them. We want someone who is looking for a family home, not a stepping stone,” he says.

The hospital partners with KU, Washburn, Baker and Neosho County Community College for nursing students’ capstone components or rotations, which brings potential new nurses to LMH for practical experience.

Brookens attends local career fairs and advertises open positions through both traditional avenues and social media. He says LMH searches for both recent graduates and tenured nurses who may live in Lawrence and have careers somewhere in Topeka or Kansas City.

Nurses are looking for competitive salary and vacation, and sick pay benefits, which Brookens says LMH offers. But he says the scope of health insurance LMH provides because the hospital is self-insured is a big plus, especially when combined with the hospital’s corporate autonomy, which distinguishes it from many other Topeka- and Kansas City-area hospitals that are part of conglomerates.

“We are big enough that we have the bells and whistles. We can afford investment into our staff for training and have the ability to train them, plus they benefit from the leadership and education of other nurses on staff,” Brookens says.

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