In the coming years, the shortage of rheumatologists is expected to worsen. So attracting medical students to the specialty and good rheumatology candidates to your practice will be vital to meeting patients’ needs. But what are the best ways to accomplish this?
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To attract medical students, Aruni Jayatilleke, MD, MS, assistant professor of medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, believes increasing student exposure to rheumatology patients and their illnesses is key. Practicing rheumatologists can volunteer as a faculty member at a medical school to precept students or serve as small group facilitators or lecturers.
Additionally, Dr. Jayatilleke advises encouraging medical students to shadow you during their preclinical years or offer opportunities at your clinic to do rotations during their later years. Rheumatologists can also participate in outreach opportunities, such as walks to raise money for arthritis and lupus or medical school-affiliated community service. Organizing support for patient outreach with students, particularly when they are shadowing you or doing a rotation in your clinic, can help solidify a mentor relationship.
The Rheumatology Research Foundation provides opportunities for medical students and residents to learn from faculty and gain early exposure to rheumatology. Winners of the Foundation’s Medical AND Graduate Student Preceptorships are provided a chance to spend several weeks an established rheumatology professional, either in a community-based or academic practice, and learning more about the field of rheumatology.
Another strategy: Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins, a physician-recruitment firm in Dallas, suggests becoming an advocate for rheumatology by writing and blogging for physician and consumer publications and websites about how rheumatology offers financial, emotional and lifestyle benefits. Emphasize that with the shortage of rheumatologists worsening, the need for rheumatologists will increase and salaries are likely to increase in the future.
Even if a rheumatologist is not affiliated with an academic practice, they can still get in front of medical or pre-med students at local universities. Mr. Singleton notes that residency directors and medical school chairs are increasingly looking to address the business of medicine, which doctors in training are not usually exposed to. Rheumatologists can contact their local medical school and residency leaders directly to ask about opportunities to speak about the details of running a medical practice, as well as why rheumatology is a good specialty choice.
To attract new rheumatologists to your practice, it’s important to know what other rheumatology practices offer their employees to be competitive. Merritt Hawkins derived internal data from incentives offered in approximately 30 efforts to recruit rheumatologists to various practice settings from September 2016 through December 2017. It found that $200,000 was a low starting salary, $253,000 was average and $325,000 was high, Mr. Singleton reports.
The data also showed that payment attached to quality metrics, such as patient satisfaction, treatment protocols and more, typically represented between 5% and 10% of physician compensation. Other additional payments included an average of $11,667 for a signing bonus, $9,333 for a relocation allowance and $2,000 annually for continuing education.
As part of a large private, single specialty group, Kevin Kempf, MD, FACP, FACR, partner, Rheumatology Associates of South Texas, San Antonio, says his practice can’t compete with large health systems on salary and benefits. Rather, the practice finds its competitive edge in functioning as a partnership. “The ultimate goal is to have a partner rheumatologist who owns equity in the practice—making them personally vested in the practice’s success,” he says. “This [incentive] has been very successful; no physicians have left the practice since it opened in 2005. In fact, we added four more [physicians],” he says.
“We seek out more independent-minded physicians who want more decision-making ability and independence in how they practice medicine,” Dr. Kempf continues. The practice offers a starting salary with a guaranteed base pay, an option for quality-based payments, a continuing education allowance, malpractice insurance and 401(k) plan eligibility on the first day of employment.
Online: Individual groups can promote their practices through their websites, which should have a recruiting component, such as a “Join Us!” tab. “It’s always helpful to have video testimonials from physicians and other clinicians on your website, extolling the group’s employment benefits,” Mr. Singleton says.
Dr. Kempf says maintaining an excellent reputation for your work environment is also key. “If our clinical and administrative staffs are happy, they will in turn take good care of our patients, which will help provide the high quality we strive for,” he says. “This attracts talent at all levels.”
Karen Appold is a medical writer in Pennsylvania.