Stephanie Gilbreath and Susan Piekarski

Stephanie Gilbreath and Susan Piekarski

Communities nationwide are struggling to meet the growing demand for new physicians at the same time the supply of doctors is decreasing.

Today in the United States, approximately 850,000 physicians are required to adequately meet the healthcare needs of Americans, yet there are only about 810,000 doctors currently practicing. And the situation isn’t expected to improve any time soon. It is estimated that, by 2030, there will be a shortage of up to 104,000 physicians in the United States.

With communities of all sizes competing for the shrinking supply of physicians, we at CHI Mercy Health are actively working to identify and attract new providers to ensure the healthcare needs of Douglas County residents are adequately met now and in the future.

When many physicians think of Oregon the initial thoughts are of Portland, Bend, and Eugene, not smaller regions such as the Umpqua Valley. An important first step is to make known the advantages and benefits our community offers.

We take a long-term approach to this process, hoping to successfully attract the kind of physicians who are most likely to stay and practice for more than just a few years.

Our process involves an initial screening interview that is designed to determine early on if a candidate is a good fit for our community. A site visit is another crucial step and physician candidates are encouraged to bring their family members.

We show them as many of Douglas County’s highlights as possible, in the short time they have with us. During the site visit community members are instrumental in showcasing the resources available.

While our need for additional physicians is ongoing, we aren’t working from a position of desperation. We’re not interested in candidates who don’t possess outstanding medical skills, strong character traits and a desire to live in a community that, while small, still offers outstanding work and lifestyle benefits.

The good news is, more and more new physicians are looking for the exact kind of opportunity available at Mercy and in Douglas County. They are increasingly interested in employed opportunities in group settings, regular on-call schedules that allow for predictable time off, and the flexibility to be more involved in family and personal life than older physicians traditionally have been.

They also want to practice as broad a spectrum of their skill set as possible, and there is a greater chance they can do that here, than a larger setting, where they are more likely to have to focus on a specific area of their expertise.

Even with all the advantages we can offer a physician, our success comes in small doses. Generally speaking, an in-house hospital recruiter that attracts four or five new physicians a year is considered to be doing a good job of recruiting.

We’re fortunate to have added several new physicians to our medical staff in recent years, many of whom have come to us through the J1 Visa program that allows, among others, foreign physicians to receive training, or to practice in underserved areas.

Through this program, highly trained physicians from foreign countries gain experience and additional training in the United States by practicing medicine for at least three years in rurally designated, American communities like ours.

These are individuals who are among the most highly educated and trained physicians in their own countries, and our patients benefit greatly from their up-to-the-minute skills and knowledge. Several of these physicians have elected to remain in and practice in our community, even after their three-year commitment has been completed.

As mentioned, we take a long-term approach to our recruitment efforts. Many of the candidates we are talking to today are still in training and won’t even be eligible to practice until 2019 or 2020. But as more retirees move to our area, more of the current residents reach the age at which the need more care and health insurance coverage, and the need for physicians is only going to grow.

And at Mercy we are committed to ensuring that we are well positioned to meet the increased demand and continue meeting Douglas County’s healthcare needs.

Stephanie Gilbreath and Susan Piekarski are physician recruiters at CHI Mercy Health.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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