How to Attract Care Providers to Rural and Underserved Communities

When it comes to attracting healthcare practitioners, community health centers in rural and underserved communities have the odds stacked against them. Individuals in these communities face a variety of healthcare access barriers, which are weaved into the already problematic U.S. healthcare staff shortage crisis and soaring turnover rates.

To keep a steady foothold in the future of healthcare, you need to employ enough healthcare professionals to meet the needs of your community, which means you may have to identify new approaches to the way you attract, hire and retain primary care physicians, physician assistants, dentists, pharmacists, LPNs, RNs, CNAs, psychiatrists and other healthcare workers.

How do you do this? The first step is to become familiar with what is being done at the state and federal levels to help support your efforts. The next step is to use that information to develop a new strategy to attract providers to your facility.

State and Federal Support Options For Recruiting Rural Health Professionals

The issue of not being able to attract care providers to rural community health settings is not new. As a result, state and federal programs, policies and strategies have been designed to improve the supply of rural health professionals, a few of which are listed below.

Type

Options

State-Level Policies & Programs

  • Healthcare education and recruitment incentives, i.e., grants, loans, fellowships, state loan repayment/forgiveness or scholarship programs, faculty loan repayment programs, tax benefits and others
  • Rurally-oriented curricula to increase the number of healthcare graduates prepared for rural practice
  • Rural clinical training opportunities, including residency programs
  • Telehealth services across state lines
  • New or alternative provider types practicing in rural areas

Healthcare Education

 

  • Admissions criteria that produce providers interested in rural practice, i.e., admitting more students from rural communities
  • Rural-centric curricula and training tracks
  • Distance education programs

Rural Healthcare Facilities

 

  • Telehealth to fill gaps in care
  • Cross-professional care teams to provide more efficient and high-quality care
  • Future workforce planning to avoid prolonged vacancies
  • Pay increases, benefits and flexibility to improve recruitment and retention strategies

Foreign Medical Graduates

 

  • J-1 visa waivers to fill physician vacancies via the Conrad State 30 Program, which allows each state’s health department to request waivers for up to 30 foreign physicians per year, each of whom must agree to work in a federally designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) or Medically Underserved Area (MUA)
  • Non-immigrant H-1B visas to fill employment gaps, which are employer-sponsored visas for specialty occupations, i.e., medical doctors and physical therapists, that are issued for three years and can be extended to six years

Federal Policies & Programs

 

  • Open funding opportunities for healthcare workers to support rural and underserved communities
  • Scholarships and loan repayment programs to complete healthcare professions training, offered by the National Health Service Corps to students who agree to complete a service commitment in an HPSA
  • Scholarships for nursing students who agree to serve two years at an eligible facility with a nursing shortage, offered by the Nurse Corps Scholarship Program

Technical Assistance

  • Technical assistance for states and organizations involved in health workforce planning, offered through the Health Workforce Technical Assistance Center and includes direct technical assistance, educational webinars and facilitating access to health workforce data

The struggles you encounter in sustaining your workforce negatively impact patient care and your ability to meet staffing requirements for your center. Therefore, it is essential to be proactive as you develop your new strategy—which begins with knowing what you want.

Determine Your End Goal

Before placing a job ad, think about the goal behind the role. If you want to improve patient outcomes at your clinic, think about which patients, conditions, disorders or diseases you treat most often that you would like to improve. From there, work backward to better identify what you need to improve patient outcomes. For example, better outcomes are the result of better care quality. Better care quality is the result of better care delivery, which is the result of the right training and experience. Reverse-engineering your goal makes it easier to determine the role you need, the nonnegotiable skills and characteristics you require for the role, and the requirements that can be learned on the job.

Steps to get improved outcomes

After you determine the required skills and traits for the role you want to hire, do some research to find out what practitioners would want from a role located in a rural community that might require extensive travel, and therefore, less time at home. Ask your current staff what attracted them to your facility and what keeps them there. This is also a good question to ask individuals who apply for or contact you about the role.

Finally, look at the careers webpages of other rural community health centers and find out what they are doing to attract physicians and other healthcare professionals. You might be surprised by small improvements you can make to increase your applicant pool, whether that means covering gas mileage or offering a more flexible work schedule.

Know How to Market Your Jobs

Because attracting candidates is becoming more difficult, the way organizations advertise and promote their jobs has changed. Many employers either require recruiters to have marketing experience, and others invest in dedicated recruitment marketing roles to build and promote an “employer brand.”

It makes sense. In today’s job market, employers no longer advertise that they have XYZ roles available with XYZ requirements. Instead, they promote an experience using storytelling—and it works. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner has found that messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than just facts.

top ways to attract providers to your center pie chart

For example, let’s say you need to hire a dedicated primary care physician. In your job ad, you would tell the story of your rural community health clinic, the obstacles you and your patients face without having a primary care physician, and the ways in which the role can impact your community. Storytelling does three things:

  • Engages the job seeker while providing meaningful information
  • Helps them envision how they can “fit in” at your clinic
  • Motivates them to apply for the role

While it might be unlikely for rural community health centers to receive budget dollars for a recruitment marketer, there are things you can do to attract more applicants without hiring a marketing professional.

Improve Your Job Ads

To successfully market your job vacancy, you need to have a depth of knowledge about your facility and your target audience (community health workers). The goal is to communicate the story of your mission, culture and benefits in a way that attracts the right job seekers and keeps them engaged enough to apply.

To create an engaging job ad, consider these tips:

  • Demonstrate the link between the job and its impact on patients
  • Accentuate unique perks or benefits you offer, or consider adding new ones
  • Include a role-specific “day in the life of” video or text
  • Add quotes from your primary care physicians, physician assistants, dentists, pharmacists or nurses about their favorite part of the job
  • Offer continuing medical education to your clinicians at no cost to them
  • Describe the workplace culture and atmosphere

Find Alternative Ways to Promote Your Jobs

If you only use job boards like Indeed, Monster or Careerbuilder, you may miss out on finding quality candidates. Try to advertise your open roles using other methods, too. For example:

  • Social media
  • Local associations
  • Colleges and universities
  • Referrals from your existing staff
  • Announcements at public events

Taking the time to craft an engaging job ad and using a variety of methods to promote it can make a noticeable difference in the amount and quality of applicants you attract.

For an in-depth walkthrough—complete with helpful templates and worksheets—on how to attract and retain highly skilled rural community health practitioners, download the free guide below.

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Jeanine D’Alusio

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Relias

Jeanine spends her days writing for the Health and Human Services industry at Relias. Before her career in marketing, she worked extensively in human resources and learning and development. Jeanine has more than 10 years of nonprofit experience, including as an HR Director at a multiservice behavioral health and community services organization. Jeanine is also a licensed massage therapist who enjoys helping her clients feel better in her spare time.

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