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April 1, 2021

Seven things to keep in mind when recruiting to rural areas

In the ever-competitive field of health care recruitment, perhaps the most challenging task a recruiter can be handed is to recruit for a rural or underserved area. So what’s a recruiter to do to make a rural opportunity stand out during a physician job search?

I like to remind my team at 3RNet that recruitment is both an art and science: There’s no guaranteed formula. However, there are best practices that can be followed to increase your chances of finding a great candidate for your job openings.

As the expert organization for recruitment and retention in rural and underserved areas, 3RNet has compiled some of our best tips and tricks, created and honed from years of our national network of members’ collective knowledge to create the best recruiting approach possible.


  1. Get yourself organized

We often find when talking with recruiters, or in the case of rural and underserved recruiting: recruiter/HR professional/executive assistant (or a similar combination of multiple-hat-wearing talent) that the pieces which are most often overlooked are planning and preparation. We get it, planning may not be the most exciting of topics when it comes to recruitment. However, we challenge you to add this piece to your to-do list, because we know from over 25 years of experience that taking time to prepare with tasks such as forming a recruitment team, defining what sets you apart and who you’re looking for, and setting a budget can help move you closer to your goal.


  1. You’re recruiting toward culture

When we ask employees at small hospitals or clinics, "Why do you work here?", oftentimes the response is something along the lines of, "We’re like family," or "We make such a difference in our community," or "This is more than just a job to me." With these sentiments in mind, we’d remind you to remember that the culture of a health facility providing access to care for rural or underserved Americans is one of the most important features you can showcase when promoting your opportunities.

Recruiting rural or underserved can, and likely will, have challenges. You may be far away from a concert or theater venue. Perhaps yours is the town next to the "big lake town." Remember - despite any challenge you may know you face - you have your advantages, too. (And your competitors have challenges, even if different, just like you.) What are your community advantages? Share them! What’s your work culture like? Communicate it.


  1. Know and market your unique selling points

Is an advantage really an advantage if everyone claims it? When asking recruiters to think about what sets them apart, all too often the first response is, "We have great hunting and fishing." If everyone has great hunting and fishing, don’t we all start to look and sound the same? What then makes us stand out?

One of the most important exercises we encourage recruiters to go through is taking time to discover the unique selling points (USPs) that can help define your facility and community. This serves two high-reaching goals: One, it will help you create consistent points to highlight in your marketing and promotion efforts; and two, it can help you narrow down your ideal candidate.

Know and communicate your unique selling points when recruiting rural.

  1. Job ad > job description

Posting jobs to several job boards can be time-consuming. You’ve got to hustle! However, job boards can be a fantastic way to reach your target audience with a broad reach. As you’re putting in the time and work to post your jobs online, you want to make the most out of the opportunities you’re given on job boards and make your positions stand out.

Take some time and really spruce up your content. No one needs to know about an "incumbent" or that the "candidate must be able to lift 15 pounds." Then take that glorious ad and finesse the language to work with the various outlets you use. This is using a job ad rather than a job description. (Think: ad = attention-grabbing advertisement; description = in-depth, more HR-type language.) There’s absolutely a necessary and appropriate time and place for the more in-depth information. What we’re saying here is: Perhaps that time and place is not the first glimpse into a job that a job seeker may view.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone in the middle of their job search. You’re likely browsing several websites, and scrolling through many jobs quickly, perhaps on your phone. What’s going to catch your attention? (And from there, how easy is it to learn more and apply?) Taking a bit of time at the front of this process to shine up your information from a job description that could seem overwhelming to a job ad - that’s attention grabbing and is an easy glimpse into a simple inquiry process - can be well worth it.


  1. Know your incentive programs and people

When recruiting rural or underserved areas, we’ve got to use every tool at our disposal. Know which incentive programs your facility qualifies for. Are you eligible for National Health Service Corps? What state- or community-specific loan repayment or other incentive programs do you have available? Are you familiar with your state’s Conrad 30 J-1 Waiver program? These programs are fantastic tools that can help in your recruitment efforts.

Even better news: If you have questions about these programs, there are people in your state who can help. Some great folks (and organizations) to know in your state include:

  • 3RNet Member
  • Primary Care Office
  • J-1 Waiver Officer (may be same person as PCO)
  • State Office of Rural Health
  • Primary Care Association
  • Area Health Education Centers


Know the key contacts for your purposes within these organizations.

Bonus: Many of these fine people will overlap with those who know more about - or even are responsible for - some of the incentive programs outlined above.


  1. Your pool is small: Celebrate your wins!

Recruiting can be hard. There are many stats that illustrate this point; There are not enough health professionals to go around. For employers serving rural or underserved populations, the pool of interested candidates can be even smaller.

Make sure you take the time and effort to celebrate your wins! This is good for you and your recruiting team’s morale. Also think of this as an exercise in reviewing what pieces of your process worked well and what aspects could benefit from some tweaks so you can knock it out of the park again. Even if you have to turn this into a task you’ll satisfyingly check off your never-ending to-do list, do it! And know we’re mentally celebrating alongside you, because: Yay! You did it!

Celebrate wins when recruiting to rural areas.


  1. We’re here to help

Recruitment is a team sport! OK - not really. But recruiting does take a team effort. Remember the statewide stakeholders you can rely on, which we highlighted in No. 5, beyond the vital recruitment team you should establish as part of your planning and preparation.

3RNet is part of that list! And we’re here to help. Contact 3RNet staff or connect with your state 3RNet member (visit to find your appropriate member) if you have questions or need some help. It’s been our mission since 1995 to support the important work you do. 3RNet also has resources that can help you along the way. Learn more about our tools and resources by visiting our website.



Mike has over 20 years of experience in the recruitment of health care professionals. Prior to leading 3RNET Mike worked for six years at the Missouri Primary Care Association as Director of Recruitment and Workforce Development. There he assisted 21 community health centers and other Missouri hospitals and clinics in their health professional recruitment efforts through the Missouri Health Professional Placement Service. Mike’s first recruitment position in health care was as Director of Medical Staff Development at St. Mary’s Health Center in Jefferson City, Missouri. He served in this role for nine years and recruited for all physician specialties and advanced practice nurses at the 167-bed hospital and affiliated clinics. Mike has been a member of the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR) since 1997 and maintains their certification of Certified Physician/Provider Recruitment Professional (CPRP). He has a bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and a master’s degree from Western Illinois University.

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