By Jack King
If you dropped 20 new general practice physicians into Clovis’ pool of patients, they would hardly make a ripple.
That was how Plains Regional Medical Center’s new administrator Brian S. Bentley described the city’s physician shortage recently. And it’s not just GPs that the city needs, he said.
“Clovis probably has never had enough doctors to begin with, but right now we are probably 40 to 50 physicians short — of all kinds,” he said.
The physician shortage is a nationwide problem, Bentley said, brought on by a number of factors, including the expense to universities of training doctors, a cut in government funding for residency programs and barriers to the immigration of foreign doctors since Sept. 11. But Clovis has suffered losses recently that have sharpened its local crisis.
“We’ve had two cardiologists and two surgeons leave, and an orthopedic surgeon who died suddenly,” Bentley said.
Traditionally, hospitals have not participated in communities’ recruitment process, but, recognizing the need in Clovis, Plains Regional Medical Center has stepped into the effort in a big way, Bentley said.
“We’ll probably spend $2 million in recruiting costs and helping physicians with start up costs in the next year,” he said.
Currently, Plains Regional has hired a recruiter to find a new orthopedist for Clovis, and another to find an invasive cardiologist — “We need three in the community,” Bentley said.
The hospital also is looking for another pediatrician. It has four now, but they are all “very busy,” he said.
It has a commitment to come to Clovis from a new critical care doctor, a verbal commitment from an anesthesiologist and a surgeon, and is in the process of recruiting a family practitioner, Bentley said.
Gayla Brumfield, who has served on the hospital’s board for eight years and been involved in physican recruitment for most of that time, said the kind of support new physicians need is growing in Clovis.
“In the past, the environment was such that it was harder to get money for equipment that was needed. Presbyterian (Medical Group) is more cooperative now, quicker to respond to physicians’ needs. The process is better,” she said.
“Also, a lot of physicians might not have been as supportive as they could have been to new physicians. They are more supportive now. I think they’re seeing that there is a lot more room for other doctors in the community; plus, they’re exhausted. The number of patients everyone is seeing is so great,” she said.
Bentley said Plains Regional Medical Center has recognized that, in order to attract doctors, the community has to offer them the kinds of practice style they are looking for.
For doctors interested in working in a group, Plains Regional offers membership in the Presbyterian Medical Group. It will help a doctor start a private practice or help him or her find a private group. Finally, Plains Regional is interested in employing some doctors directly in the hospital and in its emergency room, he said.
“We will help them find the practice style of their choice,” Bentley said.
Keeping doctors once they have been recruited here is another part of the battle, he said.
“It really is a national competition. Once they start, they get calls nationwide: ‘Wouldn’t you like to work in Pennsylvania, in Washington state, in Florida?’ You can’t interfere with current doctors’ practices either, because they might look for greener grass,” he said.
Embracing diversity in the community helps make the job of recruiting and retaining doctors easier, he said.
“Suppose you’re interviewing an extremely intelligent and highly qualified candidate from an Indian background and they ask you if there’s a good vegetarian restaurant in town? Also, physicians looking to set up new practices are, as a group, young. They’re likely to look for things that might not be important to the rest of us — like high-speed Internet service,” he said.
“Some of the growth that’s occurring now is good, because it reasures them that they’re not coming to a town that’s going to dry out from under them,” he said.