The Recruitment Challenge: Finding physicians for rural hospitals

Hiring and retaining staff has become the number one challenge for rural hospitals and healthcare facilities in 2022. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, 13% of U.S. hospitals are experiencing critical staff shortages, with 22% reporting anticipated shortages within the next 7 days.

What brought this on? Where did all the doctors go?

“The Great Resignation” is the new term used to describe the increasing number of doctors who opted for early retirement, in part due to the burnout that had become more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compounding this is the fact that fewer people today are aspiring to become doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges now predicts a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. Both hospitalists and emergency medicine physicians made the Merritt Hawkins list of the Top 10 Most In-Demand Physicians, coming in at numbers 5 and 6 respectively.

The race is on to find good doctors, with recruiters falling all over each other to attract and employ a shrinking talent pool. Hospitals in rural settings, which have historically found it difficult to recruit physicians, are finding the present challenge to be nearly impossible. According to the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), 25% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, yet only 10% of physicians practice there.

When supply is low and demand is high, the wealthiest health systems do what they are uniquely able to do: throw money at the problem. Signing bonuses of up to $100,000 are becoming more and more common. Others have taken recruiting directly to the source. A recent survey by Merritt Hawkins revealed that 50% of final-year medical residents claimed to have received 100 or more recruiting offers during their training. 

Most rural hospitals cannot compete with this type of bonus compensation. But that certainly doesn’t mean they cannot attract the doctors they need.

At, IN Compass Health we know that not all doctors are seeking positions based on salary alone. Many like the idea of working in a rural setting… where they can enjoy a better quality of life than their urban counterparts.

While physicians in rural areas have historically had a higher average compensation than those working in larger cities, salary alone was never enough to attract these doctors to rural communities. Rather, it is the “intangibles” that attract them. The chance to help underserved populations. The ability to develop better and more meaningful relationships with patients. More flexible schedules. The opportunity to make a real difference in a community. All while enjoying a better work-life balance, a safer environment and a lower cost of living.

“The work-life balance is coming into focus far more, as many current jobs aren’t constructed in a way that promotes relationships, physical health or family,” says a pulmonology specialized hospitalist working for a large health system in Colorado. “Many folks are leaving organizations that pay more in favor of practices that allow for a sense of community, colleagues they trust, sustainability of job and more flexible schedules.”

The unemployment rate for physicians in the United States is just 0.5%, but according to the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR), nearly 57% of employed physicians are now considering or have considered changing employers. This creates an opportunity for outlying hospitals—and the companies like IN Compass Health who serve them—to use the unique attributes of a rural setting to their advantage to find and attract physicians seeking… well, greener pastures.

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