For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: Physician recruitment and retention

One of the best-known health care providers in the country, based in the Midwest, just completed a mass mailing to physicians with an appeal to return to the Midwest to practice medicine. Susan and I got such a flyer in the mail earlier this week. It highlights a supply chain problem that we at the School have been working on for some time – the intense competition for people talent. The empty shelves that we’ve all seen in our local stores is reminiscent of the challenge we and other organizations face to educate health students and provide care with such a tight market supply of providers. The competition is intense, and we need to do more to ensure an optimal cohort of highly skilled faculty and staff.

Because of the long-standing healthcare workforce challenges in North Dakota even before the current exacerbation, we – with strong support from the North Dakota Legislature – inaugurated the Healthcare Workforce Initiative (HWI) more than a decade ago. The HWI has four major goals: 1) reduce disease burden through population health initiatives; 2) increase retention of health professional graduates for practice in North Dakota; 3) increase health program class sizes; and 4) increase the efficiency of care delivery in the state. These initiatives have been largely successful in increasing the supply of healthcare providers for North Dakota, although shortages and challenges remain. But we’ve gone from well below the national average a decade ago for retaining physicians who have graduated from the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences who practice in-state to well above the national average.

Recruiting faculty and staff members also has been a challenge (especially of late). One approach that we use is to be constantly on the lookout for faculty members located elsewhere who originally are from North Dakota and might be interested in returning (as in the flyer mentioned above looking for physicians who might be interested in returning home). Another competitive advantage that we are trying to utilize is to increase the number of endowed chairs that we can offer to help with faculty recruitment and retention (an endowed chair is a position named for a benefactor donor and accompanied by a monetary stipend). We hope to add one endowed chair each year over the next decade. This is a major challenge, as a typical endowed chair requires a $2.5 million donation. But we are making progress, and the ability to offer such a chair to a potential recruit (or a current outstanding faculty member) certainly gives us a competitive advantage over other institutions. A related but separate issue is that we pay attention to compensation and try to make sure that we are competitive.

Additionally, we try to be responsive to the issue of spousal recruitment. Many couples are like Susan and me – both working, both professionals, and each with our own career. We don’t try to recruit just one member of a team; we focus our recruitment efforts on both partners. In fact, one of the reasons that we settled here almost two decades ago was because both of us were recruited here – not just me.

In order to have as inclusive a workforce as possible, we have focused on ensuring adequate representation of diverse populations in our recruitment efforts. Especially noteworthy have been the efforts of our associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion Dr. Don Warne (with a focus on Indigenous people) and our assistant dean for gender equity Dr. Holly Brown-Borg.

Despite all that we do and have done, however, faculty and staff recruitment has become more challenging since the pandemic started. We are trying to think creatively about what else we can do to improve the human supply-chain issues. If you have any suggestions based on what has worked for you, please be in touch. Recruiting – and retaining – highly qualified and productive faculty and staff is perhaps the key ingredient in order to ensure an optimal student experience.

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences