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RiverView Health offers up to $20,000 to 'community recruiters' in fight against physician shortage

Dr. Colin Fennell, chief medical officer of RiverView Health, is interviewed in his office in East Grand Forks, Minn. on June 27, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
Dr. Colin Fennell, chief medical officer of RiverView Health, sits for a portrait in his office in East Grand Forks, Minn. on June 27, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

RiverView Health is turning to the public for assistance in dealing with a projected physician shortage.

The Crookston-based health care system is offering up to $20,000 to community members who help recruit physicians. It's a sort of "crowdsourcing" program that RiverView's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Colin Fennell likened to "six degrees of separation."

"Somebody who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody," he said from RiverView's East Grand Forks clinic. "And if you can identify that person for us, then our plan is to reward you for helping us find that person."

A "community recruiter" who points a candidate toward RiverView would receive $10,000 upon a physician being hired full time with a minimum three-year commitment, along with yearly $2,000 payments for the first five years they work at RiverView. The recruiters complete a form to alert RiverView of a potential candidate when the physician expresses interest, according to a news release.

The system announced the new program in early June.

RiverView is hoping to attract at least two family doctors, at least one internal medicine specialist and one or two general surgeons, Fennell said. But they wouldn't necessarily turn down applicants for other jobs.

"We think once we get them there, then we have a good chance of selling them, but it's just getting past that initial barrier to get them to come," he said, adding they've already attracted a potential general surgeon candidate through the program.

RiverView has almost 400 employees and an annual payroll of $27 million, according to a news release.

Tannaz Rasouli, senior director of public policy and strategic outreach at the Association of American Medical Colleges, said she hadn't heard of a strategy similar to the one RiverView is using.

"I know that communities are trying lots of creative approaches to recruiting physicians to areas that traditionally have had a difficult time recruiting and retaining health professionals," she said in an email.

Battling a shortage

A study conducted for the AAMC predicted the U.S. will face a shortage of 61,700 to 94,700 physicians by 2025. Fennell pointed to a 1994 decision to cut the number of medical school enrollment positions in North America as one factor in the shortage because it ignored the coming wave of aging baby boomers.

Fennell said a recent increase in medical school enrollment "doesn't come close to finding us enough people.

"Then it becomes a lottery of who's going to get the graduates," he said. "We thought, let's try something different, see if we can find a different way of approaching this problem."

Dr. Erik Kanten, who is in family practice at RiverView, acknowledged Crookston is not a major metropolis such as the Twin Cities. But it has a solid educational system and a strong sense of community.

"You have to have someone who is willing to live in a small town and be part of the community and get involved in the community," he said.

Fennell added RiverView can "hold its own" in its the salaries, and he echoed Kanten in promoting the lifestyle that northwest Minnesota offers. But he said some see "northern Minnesota" as a pejorative term.

"If Crookston was perfect, it'd be beside a great big lake, the lake would be beside the ocean and the ocean would beside a mountain," he said. "We have things to offer people if they get a chance to see it."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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