Making a perfect match: How to find a new associate

August 1, 2005

Be certain that you have an adequate number of patients or potential patients to keep a new associate busy.

Nothing can cause more anxiety, cost more money, and result in greater disaster than hiring an associate who doesn't stay or, worse, who leaves your practice and becomes your competor. Since this is such an important step, I have asked Russell Bishop, head of physician recruitment at Urology Associates of North Texas in Fort Worth, to provide his insight in this crucial aspect of operating an office that many of us will be facing in the future.

Is a new associate necessary?

If you are considering retiring in the near future and would like to turn over your practice to a younger associate or to sell the assets of your practice, consider looking for a new associate 1 to 2 years before you plan to exit. Perhaps someone is retiring or leaving your practice and you will need to fill that vacancy. Be certain that you have an adequate number of patients or potential patients to keep a new associate busy.

One of the best ways to determine if you need a new associate is to look at your appointment schedule and see how far out new patients have to wait to get an appointment, according to Bishop. If it takes more than 4 weeks to get a new appointment, then you need to consider looking for a new associate in the very near future.

You may consider conducting a patient survey of your practice and ask your existing patients about the care they are receiving. If the survey indicates that the doctor is rushed, is not spending enough time with patients, etc., consider that a red flag that more help is necessary. Another indicator is the growth of the geographic area where you practice. If you live in a fast-growing community with hundreds of new families moving into your area each month and more businesses opening soon, you may want to consider hiring a new associate.

Next look at how many urologists are in the community or the geographic area where your patients live or work. A government study several years ago showed that the national average was one urologist for every 32,881 people. If you find that the population is greater than this for each urologist, then you can safely assume that a new urologist will be busy very quickly.

The cost of hiring a new physician can be significant. In addition to the actual hiring expenses, you may see a shortfall in revenue over a period of 3 to 6 months. The volume of new patient visits for the new physician usually grows slowly, as will the revenue from those visits and services. Most new physicians will have a guaranteed minimum or base salary for the first year or two, and you won't be receiving any payments for the new physician's services for at least several months. Consequently, you can plan on having a negative cash flow for a short period of time.

How to recruit

The biggest risk that a practice takes when hiring a new physician is that the new physician arrives, but doesn't stay. This happens 25% of the time, according to Bishop. The major reason that most new hires leave is because of their spouses. A good recruiting team needs to spend almost as much time recruiting the spouse as the physician. Remember, happy wife, happy life!