Here's how social media can boost physician hiring efforts

June 25, 2017

Social media is becoming more common in physician recruiting, particularly among large practices

Ten months after starting a search to replace a retiring colleague, internist Robert Olson, MD, has conducted just three interviews to fill the position, a far lower number than he expected.

Olson, an internist and president of Associated Physicians in Madison, Wisconsin, is turning to social media as one way to broaden his practice’s reach with candidates.

Social media is becoming more common in physician recruiting, particularly among large practices, experts say. Some practices are hiring staff to manage the efforts, while others increasingly expect a social media effort from outside recruiters. By getting beyond online job boards and recruiter cold calls, they hope to appeal to candidates even before serious job hunting begins.

So far, Olson isn’t convinced social recruiting will lead to faster hires, but he’s willing to give it a try. “It does seem to be the way younger physicians communicate and interact,” he says. 

The practice has added a “work here” page to its Facebook account, which lists current job openings, and is looking at ways to add more employment content, says Terri Carufel-Wert, RN, director of clinical operations for the practice. The group also is mulling paid listings on social sites, including Doximity, in addition to listings on job boards it participates in through a recruiter.

Long recruiting times and physician shortages are the big drivers behind the rise of social media’s use in recruiting, says Helena Farabella, chairwoman of the advisory board for the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management. 

“It’s slim pickings right now” for practices searching for candidates, says Farabella, an internal medicine office manager in Rockledge, Pennsylvania. “Practices have to get more creative and open up the wallet,” she says, referring to the costs associated with maintaining an online presence.

In a March 2017 report, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projected a shortage of up to 104,900 U.S. physicians by 2030, including up to 43,100 primary care doctors. While demand for doctors is growing due to expanded coverage and an aging population, doctors themselves are getting older and retiring: more than a third are now 55 or older, and more than a third will be 65 or older within the next decade. 

Creating a social strategy

The trend is spurring some practices to stop waiting for physicians who are actively job searching and instead use social media to cultivate candidates who aren’t necessarily looking but who might be convinced to switch jobs, or physicians who might be in the job market in the future. 

Essentia Health, a Duluth, Minnesota-based health system with 2,100 providers in four states is spending about $300,000 annually on a comprehensive social media and online job board recruiting strategy, says Kris Olson, vice president of physician and professional services.

Olson’s in-house team includes nine recruiters and two full-time equivalent staffers who work exclusively in social media and online research to identify candidates for the roughly 100 physician openings a year that occur through growth, attrition and retirements.

In addition to buying physician lists from vendors, the team has cultivated its own database of 55,000 physicians that the organization sees as good fits, and they keep in touch with those doctors via email and other means, she says.

 

The social team identifies candidates and maintains a database for recruiters to match with opportunities. “It’s about turning over every rock you can find” to network with physicians through social media, she says. “Traditionally we would hire a retained firm, pay an astronomical amount of money and hope that somebody comes along. This is more of an active approach.”

Essentia has more than 17,000 followers on Facebook and LinkedIn, and includes regular recruiting messages on those sites, as well as on Twitter. It still uses outside search firms when hiring demand outpaces in-house staff resources, she says, and the aggressive approach is getting results. Positions in primary care are getting filled faster than in years past and the team is reaching candidates in specialties, such as rheumatology, that are considered extremely difficult to fill.

“We’re getting better candidates, faster, because of the direct access we have with the database,” Olson says.

Three years ago, Chad Randolph, MBA, then the newly-hired vice president for recruitment for Integrated Rehab Consultants LLC in Chicago, faced the task of recruiting 40 physical medicine physicians within a couple of years. He knew cold calls with outdated lists weren’t going to be successful because he had started his career doing that type of work for recruiting firms.

Instead, he’s been using Doximity to find physiatrists and internists who aren’t looking for new jobs but who want to supplement their incomes by working part-time in skilled nursing facilities as rehabilitation doctors. By offering lists of licensed physicians that can be broken into geographic and sub-specialty areas, for example, Doximity claims to offer prospective employers a chance to probe beyond just physicians who are in the job market.

“It allows me to target physiatrists easily and they feel comfortable responding without worrying about having hundreds of recruiters suddenly pitching jobs they aren’t remotely interested in,” Randolph says, referring to the frequent complaints from doctors who are swamped with messages from recruiters after posting a resume to an online job board or physician database. 

Doximity charges about $900 per month for employer subscriptions to its network, says Taylor Carroll, senior director of client success and operations at Doximity. That’s less than the typical traditional per-physician recruiting cost, but doesn’t include other social media or other general recruiting costs practices might incur even with a social hiring strategy. Total costs for building a complete social media hiring strategy can vary widely.

And while younger physicians account for a significant portion of social recruiting, they aren’t the only candidates responding to these overtures, experts say.

Before he started job hunting recently, Dallas-area primary care practitioner Bradley Musser, MD hung onto a recruiter message he received through his LinkedIn account. When he began looking for jobs in his area in earnest, he reached out to that recruiter, who led him to his current job. While primary care practices nationally are reporting difficulty hiring, openings in more desirable urban markets are rare, so having a proactive social profile helps, he says.

Standing out

Maximizing a practice’s digital footprint, from mobile to social media, means getting the basics right, experts say.

“If social media is already part of your culture, it can be a great recruiting tool, but to just turn a switch and have it work well is unlikely,” says Travis Singleton, senior vice president for Irving, Texas-based recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins & Associates.

As practices begin to build a more robust online and social presence, it’s important for them to keep the little things in mind, he adds. If practices want to blast emails to physicians who have visited their websites or joined their online communities, for example, they need to make sure the messages are optimized for mobile devices so they can be read easily on smartphones.

 

“If you’re a small office, just spend time talking with existing staff and ask them what social media tools they’re using, personally and professionally,” says Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, a website for recruiters. If it’s Facebook, for example, start by posting articles that highlight a physician’s expertise. Just building a practice’s online presence can help attract casual visitors, both patients and potential practice employees, she says.

And it works best when it dovetails with other media strategies, Essentia’s Olson says. She suggests asking every staff member for contact information on every physician they know who is currently in training or who used to practice in their geographic area.

At Essentia, the team even bought radio ads asking for referrals to physicians that local residents knew. That helped build the organization’s in-house candidate list, which led to building relationships through email blasts and postings on its site and on social media.

Anyone who submitted a name through the campaign and gave those contacts a heads-up that the health system would be contacting them got a gift. From that, Essentia built its database of candidates.

“Every [employee] has a social network we can tap into,” she says. “It costs almost no money, but it does involve diligence in getting out and asking people to do it.”

 

Focusing on referrals

With more employers reaching out through social networks rather than just job postings, developing those relationships can build a sense of trust, Olson says.

Particularly for smaller practices, the most basic-and free-social media platforms have made it much easier for physicians to reach out to former colleagues and classmates with job opportunities.

“[Recruiters] aren’t the first phone call,” when a hire needs to be made, says Rich Cornell, a long-time recruiter and president of Sante Consulting LLC in Chesterfield, Missouri. That means recruiters increasingly should be demonstrating value to practices by managing social channels for practices where it makes sense to outsource, he says.

Many practices find managing social media very time consuming and so are quite willing to outsource it, says Patrice Streicher, associate director for VISTA Staffing Solutions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Streicher has worked frequently with Olson’s practice. On the candidate side, she says, physicians are warming up to social media’s more informal nature.

“It’s highly successful with younger physicians, as is messaging,” she says.