Several avenues can help you recruit a new orthopaedic surgeon for your practice.

AAOS Now

Published 3/1/2007
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Robert H. Blotter, MD

Will you be my partner?

In a competitive environment, recruiting a surgeon for your practice always requires honesty—and sometimes a helping hand.

The orthopaedic recruiting environment in 2007 continues to be tight, with orthopaedics ranking as one of the five most competitive specialties. If you are planning to recruit a new surgeon for your practice this year, here are some practical tips that may make the process easier.

Look in the mirror

Before you even begin recruiting, honestly assess your own practice situation and your motivation to expand. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you looking to extend your practice expertise into a new subspecialty area? Some subspecialties, such as hand or foot, are harder to recruit than others.
  • Do you want to add a partner so that current partners can cut back on their clinical time?
  • Do you want to lighten your current call schedule by shifting some days to a new partner?
  • Do you have enough patients to keep a new partner busy or will he/she have to go looking for patients?
  • What can the new partner expect to earn? How long will it take to attain that compensation level?

Answering these questions up front will increase the likelihood of successfully recruiting a partner who will be compatible and stay with the practice. The two most common reasons new recruits leave a practice are remuneration and location. Be sure to explain your partnership compensation system early in the recruitment process; no one likes surprises six months into a new job.

As for location, take a tip from local real estate professionals and focus on the positive to avoid selling your practice short. It may be harder to recruit for a rural practice, but there are still plenty of people who would be attracted to affordable housing, short commutes, good schools, easy access to recreational areas, and family employment opportunities. States that have passed tort reform recently are also becoming more attractive, making recruiting there easier.

Getting the word out

Now that you have defined your practice needs, you can start recruiting. Several factors will help determine the expense and aggressiveness of your recruiting effort, including your practice situation, location, and urgency to fill the position. The first place to start is word of mouth with orthopaedic associates and prior training programs. The AAOS Placement Center (www.aaos.org/placement) is both reasonably priced and widely circulated.

You can also consider print advertising. With your specific group need clearly defined, you can target potential applicants through appropriate specialty publications. Using a professional recruiter is another option.

Finding a recruiter

Recruiters work on either a retainer or contingency basis. In researching this article, I interviewed recruiters from both types of firms. Because contingency recruiters are paid only when a position is filled, these firms may focus on easy-to-fill positions. If you face a difficult recruiting situation, consider using a firm that works on a retainer basis. A retainer buys effort and diligence even with difficult-to-fill positions. There are fewer retained firms but they are usually larger than contingency firms.

Generally, retained firms charge a fixed fee (retainer), currently around $30,000 to $50,000, although this varies by the difficulty of the job, and can be negotiated down if the search involves more than one position. For example, if your practice is working with a hospital that has agreed to pay part of your recruiter’s fee, find out whether the hospital is recruiting multiple doctors in other specialties. If the same firm is handling all recruiting for the hospital, you may be able to get a lower rate.

Expect to pay one third to one half of the fee when you contract with the firm, and the rest when you finally hire someone. But don’t be surprised if you are billed for some additional expenses to “stir the market.” Mailers, Internet work, and print advertisements developed on your behalf could cost you an additional $6,000 to $8,000. You are, however, guaranteed that your position will be filled.

Contingency recruiters, on the other hand, get paid only if they fill your position. Most have a sliding scale that begins at about $25,000 and goes up, depending on the difficulty of filling the vacancy. Contingency recruiters usually are smaller firms, and there are lots of them. Although you might think a contingency recruiter would be more motivated to fill your position, the retained recruiter working your account may be just as motivated, and may not be paid till the position is filled.

A recruiter may initially seem like an expensive and unnecessary hiring expense, so you’ll want to choose carefully. (See the accompanying sidebar on questions to ask.) Using every tool available to you will help make your recruitment process shorter and less burdensome. And, no doubt, you’ll be successful in recruiting a new associate to your “outdoor sportsmen’s paradise with excellent schools and competitive salary and benefits.”

Robert H. Blotter, MD, is a member of the AAOS Practice Management Committee. He has a small group practice in Marquette, Mich.

AAOS Now would like to hear about your practice’s experiences in recruiting a new physician and/or in using a recruiting firm. Send your story to aaoscomm@aaos.org and we may use it in an upcoming issue or on the online AAOS Practice Management Center.