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 How to Work With Recruiting Firms

Before about 1980, it was relatively rare for physicians to encounter physician recruiters. During the 1980s, however, a growing number of physician search firms were established to assist hospitals and medical groups in recruiting hard-to-find specialists.

As managed care caught on, the need for primary care physicians to serve as "gatekeepers" became acute and many hospitals and some large medical groups added full-time physician recruiters to their staffs. Though the "gatekeeper" system has lost considerable momentum, the demand for physicians remains very high. (see A Look at Physician Supply and Demand).

The number of independent search firms has grown, and now there are several hundred firms across the country that offer physician recruiting services, as well as about 4,000 to 5,000 "in-house" physician recruiters working with hospitals, managed care companies, large medical groups and other employers of physicians.

Though there are no definitive numbers, there are probably about 6,000 to 7,000 physician recruiters in the U.S. today. That's about one for every two to three final-year residents. Chances are good that you have already been contacted by mail or phone by recruiters many times.

Are there distinctions between these firms, and what is the best way for residents to work with recruiters?

Following are a few tips.

*The client pays, not the candidate. Recruiters can help you find a practice, but that doesn't mean you pay for their services. Recruiters are always paid by the party seeking a physician and never by the physician candidate. If a recruiter asks you for any type of payment, do not work with them.

*"Retained" vs. "contingent." There are two basic kinds of recruitment firms—"retained" firms and "contingent" firms. Retained firms obtain an upfront fee or retainer from clients before the search and a placement fee at the end of the search. Contingent firms do not receive any upfront fee but are only paid when they have made a placement. Retained firms employ consultants who represent a limited number of search assignments. They usually visit these assignments personally and obtain a relatively in-depth amount of knowledge regarding the job and the community. Contingent recruiters usually do not personally visit the employment site and they often represent many different opportunities.

Good retained firms will provide candidates with a consulting dimension, assisting the candidate with contract information, providing written interview itineraries and serving as a hands-on "matchmaker." Contingent firms may offer some consulting services but usually are less involved in the process. Both types are working for the employer, so it is important to select a search firm that is committed to creating a match that fits your needs as well as the employer's.

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