Against all odds: selling NNY to docs

Several hard-to-find specialty physicians needed at local hospitals

Dr. Anel M. Abreu and Dr. Edward Choung, orthopedic surgeons with North Country Orthopaedic Group, are a few of the latest hires as part of a widespread physician recruiting effort. Photo by Norm Johnston.

Recite a list of the medical fields in which it’s difficult to find physicians in the north country, and you may just need to consult an otolaryngologist for your sore throat.

That’s because the list of hard-to-find specialties includes psychiatry, dermatology, urology, gastroenterology, rheumatology, endocrinology, orthopedics, obstetrics, primary care and, yes, otolaryngology: ear, nose and throat.

“It’s not easy up in the north country,” said Ben Moore III, CEO at River Hospital in Alexandria Bay. “In general, it is more difficult to attract specialty fields that require sophisticated, specific technology and equipment. Dermatology is definitely hard to attract, urology is definitely hard to attract — it’s a lot of the specialties that tend to concentrate in the urban areas.”

Faced with the challenge of physician recruitment, north country hospitals employ a wide variety of tactics to attract and retain quality doctors. To garner interest for any one position, a hospital may post on online physician job boards, send out physical mailings and mass emails about specific positions, employ social media, conduct cold calls, consult the Upstate New York Physician Recruiters website, purchase a database of physician resumes, contact residency program directors and attend meetings of specialty societies or national recruitment roadshows. To manage this process, some hospitals employ third-party recruiters, while others rely solely on in-house personnel. Some even take a local approach to their recruitment.

“We make it well known to our board members and employees that we’re looking to fill a position,” said Anne M. Walldroff, director of medical staff relations and recruitment at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown. “Maybe someone has a niece or nephew who’s just finished their residency — or even a neighbor or someone from church. You never know.”

Some north country hospitals also take advantage of teaching and training programs to attract new physicians. For example, Samaritan’s Osteopathic Internship Training Program and Osteopathic Residency Program have seen 15 to 20 former students return to Watertown as physicians. Similarly, the SUNY Upstate Rural Medical Education Program offers a chance for doctors-in-training to see if a particular hospital setting is a good fit for them.

After a physician gets here we have a high ratio of closing the deal. The community sells itself; you’ve just got to get them up here.
— Carlos H. Alberto, director of physician recruitment,
Canton-Potsdam Hospital

“RMED places third-year medical students in rural or small communities for nine consecutive months to work and learn under the supervision of family physicians and other specialists,” said Christina L. Flint, director of community relations at Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville. “Giving students this opportunity at Lewis County General Hospital can result in the student returning to the facility once their medical training is complete.”

Regardless of the hospital, one underlying strategy is key to north country physician recruitment: persuade prospective physicians to visit and show them what the region has to offer.

[Editor’s note: This is a truncated version of this story. For the full version, please see NNY Business in print or subscribe.]

Gabrielle Hovendon is a former Watertown Daily Times reporter and freelance writer who lives in Watertown. Contact her at ghovendon@gmail.com.