Finding skilled medical providers can be a challenge for any healthcare facility. Finding and retaining providers can be even more challenging if your facility is in a rural or remote location. You may decide that it makes sense to partner with a staffing agency for your needs, where locum tenens providers can fill in gaps in coverage. But how do you know that the providers will be a good fit for your facility? In this article, we’ll break down what skills and experience to look for to find excellent providers for your rural or remote healthcare facility.
Understanding the Rural and Remote Healthcare Landscape
At WMS, we work with healthcare facilities and industrial locations to staff healthcare providers in rural and remote Alaska and the Northwestern United States. These regions consist of some of the most austere environments in the country. Geographical isolation, severe weather, and limited resources all play a role in the unique challenges of attracting healthcare providers to these regions.
Additionally, this part of the country is home to diverse cultures, including Alaska Natives and Native Americans, populations who are prone to disease that is disproportionate when compared to other Americans. Whether you’re looking to find healthcare providers for a tiny farming town in Montana, a village clinic in Alaska, or mine workers in Idaho, people deserve to be seen by a professional.
As a healthcare administrator, you likely understand these challenges and realize the effect that not having healthcare providers can have, including deterioration of health within communities and the viability of the healthcare system. Often, locum tenens healthcare providers will take on the role of caring for an entire village or town. However, finding the right provider is crucial. We consider many things when working with clients and trying to make the perfect match.
Critical Skills for Healthcare Providers in Rural and Remote Areas
One thing we hear time and time again from both the employers that we partner with and the locum tenens healthcare providers who we staff is that being adaptable is of the utmost importance. Not only do providers need to expect the unexpected, but they need to be keen problem-solvers with the ability to provide care, often with limited resources. Many healthcare facilities we work with manage solo-provider sites, so the locum tenens healthcare providers who arrive at these locations must be well-prepared to handle diverse medical situations.
As mentioned previously, rural and remote areas have diverse communities, making it especially important for providers to understand and respect the local cultures. We strive to contract with providers who treat their time at facilities as though they are guests in someone else’s home. They must have the ability to acknowledge that they are a visitor to the community, and they aren’t necessarily there to restructure clinics or revamp existing systems unless they are invited to do so.
Providers also need to have strong communication skills. Not only will this come into play when working with their supervisor or healthcare administrator, but they also need to be able to communicate well with patients and any additional staff who will also be working in the facility – whether they are fellow locum providers or permanent staff members. Since many locations require a high skill set in emergency medicine, communication is essential in stabilizing patients, working with limited resources, or coordinating transfers for patients to get to a higher level of care.
Finding providers comfortable with adapting to technology can also be helpful. As locum tenens, they will likely need to learn different EMR systems, depending on where they work. Many times, this will be part of their provider orientation at a facility if they aren’t already familiar with the software. Even if they are familiar with it, it can be helpful to learn how your facility, in particular, uses the software. They may also need to know how to use telehealth systems, such as Avel telehealth services if they need to connect with fellow medical professionals remotely to assist in treating patients.
Essential Experience for Providers in Rural Settings
While we can’t speak to how every locum tenens staffing agency screens providers before recommending them for assignments, we’ll discuss what we look for when qualifying providers and matching them with assignments.
We begin by looking through pre-provider experience that may be relevant to the type of assignments we are looking to staff. For instance, were they a practicing nurse before becoming a nurse practitioner? Did they get training as an EMT or paramedic? Have they previously done some form of travel medicine or international mission work? Did they work in medicine if they served in the military? While we also look for specific experience requirements, this sort of work can offer support in demonstrating experience, particularly for APPs.
Next, we’re going to evaluate additional experience and skills that are relevant to the needs of our clients.
Primary Care Skills
We look for information on the ages they have treated, and focus areas of practice, such as pediatrics, co-morbidity, elderly care, or women’s health. We also want to know if they have experience with special procedures, such as Nexplanon application.
Urgent Care Skills
Similar to primary care skills, we want to know what ages of patients they have treated and the types of procedures that they have done independently. We also learn more about their experience working as a solo provider or if they have supported other APPs or physicians. Since many of the facilities we staff need to have patients transported to more extensive emergency facilities when required, we also discuss their experience with care coordination.
Emergency Care Skills
Lastly, we want to know if they have emergency medicine skills. While these skills may not be necessary for clinic-only sites, for many of the locations we staff, providers must have emergency medicine experience. We will get additional information such as the level of trauma center they have worked at and the level of patients they have treated. We also want to know what procedures they have performed with supervision or independently. It’s also essential for us to see if they have experience with running codes, taking solo call, and how they’ve worked with physicians in the past, if they are an APP.
We also consider whether they’ve previously worked in rural or similar environments.
Traits of Excellent Providers in Remote Healthcare
In addition to experience and skills, we also look for specific traits in healthcare providers to qualify them for remote and rural assignments.
Providers need to be resilient and level-headed. Remote healthcare can come with more demands in these areas. Providers are often isolated in remote locations, and since they are locum tenens providers, at some point, every assignment will be their first visit to a site. They need to acclimate to new surroundings, including their housing, the healthcare facility, and the people they will work with. We often hear from providers who also have to adapt to a new pace of rural life, with internet access sometimes being slower, fewer extracurricular activities to keep them busy outside of working hours, and less traditional comforts than they may be used to at home.
Additionally, healthcare providers need to show independence and initiative. They may need to work independently and have the ability to make critical decisions. Similarly, they need to have the ability to work as a team or collaborate since they may be working with limited staff, patients with unique needs of the community, and limited resources.
Evaluating Potential Candidates
We go through a rigorous process when evaluating and qualifying potential candidates. After all, partnering with a staffing agency gives you a larger pool of candidates and takes much of the legwork of qualifying candidates out of your hands.
Reviewing the CV
First, we review the information provided on the provider’s CV. When providers are interested in working with us, we start the process by getting an up-to-date copy of their CV. A fair vs. great resume can mean the difference between getting a locum assignment and not getting one!
We carefully review the CV looking for specific elements. For locum coverage, we require two years of experience from training. An exception would be if they did international or specialty rotations in rural or remote settings.
We will pay close attention to the states they are licensed in. This information can indicate how soon they can work at your facility since they must have a medical license in every state they want to work in. Additionally, we will look for certifications, including lifesaving certifications like BLS and ATLS.
As part of working with Wilderness Medical Staffing, each candidate will have an initial call with one of our recruiters to review their CV and prior experience. If the recruiters feel they would be a good fit to work with our clients, they will begin the onboarding process, which ends with another interview with our Chief Medical Officer. Based on that interview, a final decision will be made to determine if they are ready to work with our clients and at what types of facilities, based on their previous experience and career goals.
We take time during these interviews to make assessments beyond the CV so we can screen for additional skills and traits.
Before we staff any provider, we will run a reference check and perform a background check on them.
Matching Candidates Based on Assignments
Finally, before we place any provider on assignment with you, we work with you to determine your needs at your facility. We have an article to help you identify those needs if you’re unsure what they might be. Our team always does a thorough intake with clients before we fill assignments to ensure we’re all on the same page. We understand the importance of getting the right provider into your positions!
It’s also helpful to have as much detail as possible to be forthright with the tentative providers considering taking the position. Providers will consider things like pay, availability, type of facility, shift hours, etc., in deciding if they’d like to be submitted to work somewhere. Based on our 2023 Provider Annual Survey, pay and length of assignment are the two more important factors in choosing which assignments to take.
Most Important Factors for Providers When Choosing an Assignment
Once we have candidates for our clients to consider, we’ll present them to you by sending a CV along with a short bio about the provider. If you would like to interview them, you can request one, which we will facilitate with you. If you want to proceed with the candidate, we’ll prepare them for their new assignment! Many of our clients request the same provider/s over and over again because they become a welcome addition to the community. It can also provide job stability for the provider because they do not have to reacclimate to new locations when arriving at their assignment.
It’s our job to try to make filling openings as easy as possible for our clients. To do this, we consider several different qualifiers, including skills, experience, and traits of the provider, as well as requirements for your open positions.
Are you ready to start adding excellent medical providers to your healthcare team? Contact us to get started!