Talent and skills shortages continue to be a problem for the healthcare industry overall, but the numbers show it gets exponentially worse for rural areas. The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health reports that only 24% of rural U.S. residents can reach a Level I (highest level) or Level II trauma center within an hour’s drive. Is it any wonder then that rural areas make up 60% of the nation’s trauma deaths? The numbers are no better for primary care, with 4,118 Health Professional Shortage Areas (those having shortages of primary care, dental care or mental health providers) in rural and frontier areas compared to 1,960 in metro areas.

Add to this an extraordinarily tight labor market with historically low unemployment that gives nurses, physicians, physician assistants, lab techs and other healthcare professionals more options than ever before, and the challenges in healthcare recruiting for rural areas have never been greater. Recruiters and talent acquisition professionals need to get creative when hiring for these critical roles in challenging markets.

Creativity and customization are key when recruiting healthcare professionals to rural areas. Some ways to appeal to them include:

  • You can go home again: Selling an area that might not be a top-of-mind destination is easier if the person already has a connection to it. That can mean they are from the area, have family there, attended college nearby, anything that can speak to someone’s sense of wanting to reconnect or be of service to a place that is important to them. “This is a key message we try to convey,” said Mark Tippery, Client Services Director, Cielo Healthcare. “A small town in the Midwest or the South might not be a destination to everyone, but for people who have a real connection to the area and want to make it better for the people who live there, that’s a powerful draw."
  • Smaller place, bigger opportunity: For healthcare professionals just starting out, or those who feel they’ve plateaued at their current employer, the way to persuade them could lie in opportunity. At a smaller facility, it’s possible they could get opportunities as far as positions, titles and responsibilities that they wouldn’t at a metro location. If they log even just a few years in a high-profile role, they’ll be in a better position to apply for similar roles in a more desirable long-term spot. Plus, just because a hospital is in a small town doesn’t mean that it isn’t part of a large system. “You can really grow your career at a smaller facility, and get your foot in the door with a big, brand-name organization,” said Liz Bickley, Senior Vice President, Cielo Healthcare. “That offers a real appeal to a new graduate or a midcareer professional looking to make a change.”
  • Bright lights, big city, no thanks: While places like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles appeal to many professionals, small towns will offer a variety of selling points to the right people. The salaries might not be as high as in major metro markets, but they can go further because the cost-of-living is lower in rural areas. There also can be a stronger sense of community, lower crime rates, higher quality of life, etc. “For a lot of people, a smaller facility and community is just the right place to find a career destination, or start and grow a career,” said Patricia Brady, Client Services Director, Cielo Healthcare. “Just as we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to how we recruit, we also can’t assume that all candidates want the same thing.”
  • Heightened sense of mission: The healthcare profession is a noble calling wherever one practices it, and people who decide to make it their life’s work do so because they genuinely want to use their talent to help others. Doing that in a place where the healthcare options are sparse can add even more depth to their sense of mission, knowing that they can make such a difference in the lives of their patients and the health of the area overall. “What we do matters on a magnified basis in these areas,” Tippery said. “Some of the most gratifying cases are when a facility that once had to turn patients away because they weren’t adequately staffed finally gets the recruiting help they need. Then they don’t have to turn patients away, and they really get to make a huge difference in the lives of so many people.”

What these methods all have in common is that they lend themselves to a more personal approach that mixes high-tech and high-touch. Text message campaigns, social media posts and virtual job fairs are certainly effective, but more traditional methods like face-to-face job fairs, school recruitment and even print advertisements have proven successful reaching rural markets.

The need is great, the challenges are formidable, but the right recruitment strategies can make sure that healthcare organizations – and the communities they serve – have the right talent available to them to carry out their important mission.