The often murky and insincere world of physician recruiters

The last several years since I graduated from residency have been a deliberate adventure for me, as I sought to gain experience in a variety of different hospital environments. During this time, I’ve worked in every type of hospital up and down the east coast, ranging from large urban academic medical centers, to more rural community outposts. How I’ve gone about finding these jobs has also varied enormously, from personal recommendations, to going through traditional physician recruiters.

At this particular point in time, with the ageing population and shortage of physicians, most generalist specialties find themselves in enormous demand. The physician recruitment industry has therefore gone into overdrive as well. And even though I’ve used physician recruiters myself, my negative experiences with many of them (and the jobs that result) have led me to question a lot of what goes on in this industry and the tactics employed. With pay-offs for recruiters ranging from a hefty 10-30% of a physician’s yearly salary for a single placement, the aggressiveness of many recruiters is going through the roof.

Most physicians have had experiences of being approached by recruiters, and most will tell you how some of them come across as nothing more than glorified car salesmen, with little in-depth knowledge of the medical profession and tacky one-liners about how “awesome” and “amazing” their job opportunity is. Give your contact number to any agency, and expect a barrage of phone calls and emails for the next several months or years. Sometimes physicians inadvertently do it during medical conferences, unaware of what will happen next. I’ve done the same, and have been totally unprepared for the amount of soliciting that has resulted. Despite blocking countless numbers from my cell phone (an easy thing to do on an iPhone), I still receive at least 2 or 3 messages on most days asking me if I’m interested in additional opportunities. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be in demand, but not if it gets to the point of being bothersome and almost bordering on absurd at times. A few stories to tell of the unscrupulous tactics being used:

1. If you receive a call that’s from one particular number, and you know it’s a recruiting company and block the number, frequently another extension will call you back within minutes. When you do the same with that extension, sure enough, yet another extension immediately starts calling! Do these people just sit at their phones all day playing this game?!

2. Some messages left by both email and phone are rather comical, from recruiters who appear to be imploring me in a pleading voice to “PLEASE” call them back “AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” to hear about all their opportunities.

3. I have a colleague who is in private practice, and was recently called by a recruiter telling him that there was “wonderful local opportunity” that he couldn’t miss. When he asked for more details, he realized that this was his main competitor across the street! He then berated the recruiter for not doing his research before calling him.

4. As well as phone calls, many physicians find their email inboxes full of messages on a daily basis from recruiters, as well as a deluge of handouts and flyers in the regular mail. The same recruiter will often leave multiple messages a week, despite no response from the recipient

5. The incident that took the biscuit for me actually happened a couple of weeks back. I was busy seeing patients in the hospital and was pulled out of a patient room because there was an announcement that I had an urgent phone call. Rushing out of the patient’s room, and picking up the phone, instead of it being an urgent medical issue like I expected—I was met by a recruiter who claimed that he knew some great jobs that I should learn more about. When I asked how he knew where I was, he casually admitted that he found which hospital I was working in through an online search. It takes a lot to get me angry, but I told him that it was unacceptable to ever be calling me when I was working in the hospital. He was then evasive when I asked for his name and who exactly he was working for.

As for the two or three positions that I’ve found through a recruiter, as I look back, these have unfortunately been my worst and unhappiest jobs. I have been very underwhelmed as well with the sincerity of those I’ve worked with, and it’s become evident to me that most of them view their clients just as dollar signs. Case in point, one recruiter who I worked with for several weeks in order to find a job in my town of choice, appeared to be all about frequent communication and contacting me all the time. After I secured the position and had signed the contract, I was concerned about something and attempted to contact him. I left a couple of messages, but no call back. The question then answered itself, and everything was taken care of. I was genuinely excited by the job, and sent him an email to say thanks for his help. I also left a phone message saying the same. Can you guess what happened? Not one reply. Not one message of good luck or saying that it was his pleasure working with me for the last couple of months. Everything went stone cold after he presumably got his payment. That was the last time I ever worked with a recruiter.

So here’s 3 pieces of advice for any (especially new) physician who is contemplating their next career move:

1. Avoid physician recruiters completely if you can. Go directly to the hospital, clinic or group that you want to work with and do your own networking. Browse direct advertisements in medical journals and online.  It’s easy to find contact information yourself nowadays. You’ve reached this far and are by far the best person to sell yourself and negotiate what you want.

2. In-house direct recruiters are completely fine to work with (recruiters who work for the organization you want to join). In contrast to what I describe above, they have only ever been excellent. It’s the third party recruiters who typically work for big companies, charging high fees to the institution for their services, who are the ones to avoid.

3. When trying to find the right job, nothing beats a personal professional recommendation from someone who already works there. Their opinion trumps any non-medically trained recruiter who is trying to sell you the “best job since sliced bread”.

I suppose I should also finish by leaving some advice for recruiters. I don’t think you are all bad people by any means, and I’m sure many of you believe yourself to be very genuine individuals who are just doing your job to the best of your abilities. Remember that doctors are intelligent people, and tacky salesman-like tactics won’t work in the medical profession. Treat us with respect, don’t harass us, and be sincere. Gain an intricate understanding of what doctors do, and what we are looking for. Finally, when you’ve successfully found a position for your “client”, they shouldn’t just cease to exist in your mind. Wish them good luck and stay in touch with them. Who knows, if you develop long-term relationships based on trust and understanding, you will probably gain more business and success than you could ever imagine.

 

Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.

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