Patients share intimate details with them, revealing things they would sometimes rather not while developing deep trusting relationships, the kind that are extremely hard to replicate.
In recent months some Moffat County residents have voiced concerns about physician retention in the area, saying the sudden exit of trusted doctors leaves residents without a person they can trust when it comes to their medical well-being.
Craig resident and Craig Daily Press contributor Al Cashion voiced his concern about the rate physicians are leaving earlier this month at a hospital board of trustees meeting. He asked the board why staff was leaving a new hospital, and said perception is playing a major part in how the community views the situation.
“Perception is everything, whether it’s true or not, and the community is getting turmoil and discontent that is causing these people to leave," Cashion said. "It seems to be a rather common concern for the community."
CEO George Rohrich, of The Memorial Hospital in Craig, responded by saying, as with any profession, it's reasonable to expect some turnover.
“Why we expect physicians, just because they’re in this profession, to commit to stay for life doesn’t make sense," Rohrich said. "We don’t ask other young professionals coming to the area to commit for life. We have to expect some turnover, not that people will come here and stay forever. Recruiting and keeping young professionals is a challenge."
Whether it is or isn’t a fair expectation, Craig certainly isn't alone in its struggle to retain doctors.
Mike Mullins, vice president of Quorum Health Resources, TMH's management company, said he works with five other community hospitals facing the same problem and said there needs to be a community effort to help it.
“It’s about to close a couple hospitals that I work with, as they are struggling to fill holes,” Mullins said.
In addition TMH, which up until recently had a HPSA (Health Professional Shortage Area) designation from the federal government, now faces dealing with the loss of the designation responsible for bringing doctors to the area three years ago.
To receive designation, the number of doctors in the community, the community’s finances, the number of people in the community and their type of lifestyles are considered.
In 2006, Craig qualified and received designation, but recently lost it when doctors in Hayden and others from Steamboat who went to Hayden were considered part of the community, making the number of available providers too many to qualify.
The hospital was able to hire the National Health Scholar Corp to recruit doctors because of the designation, said Amy Updike, medical staff coordinator for the hospital.
The program worked by offering loan deferments and forgiveness to physicians who went to school then served time in a low income or shortage area. Updike said Dr. K.C. Keating was hired under the program.
But voicing similar opinions to Rohrich, Updike feels that physician turnover is a natural thing Craig has somehow gotten lucky and managed to avoid for many years.
“Here in Craig we have had the same physicians for many many years," Updike said. "People in this community are not used to doctor turn around. However it is very common they don’t stay in the same place for very long. The younger doctors are part of a newer breed. They come out of residency and think they know what they want, but they don’t.”
Updike said the two doctors the hospital has lost in the past year were two of the younger ones.
She also said signing bonuses and relocation allowances, among other incentives, are being offered to attract candidates. And Updike’s forecast for the future of bringing and keeping doctors in Craig isn’t bleak.
Updike said they have hired two pediatricians in the past year, and are getting some outstanding candidates for specialty positions.
"Primary care is the shortage area. Everyone wants to go into the big money which is the specialty areas," Updike said.
Dr. Pamela Kinder, who specializes in neurology and has been practicing in Craig for 17 years, said physician shortages are definitely to be expected, as everywhere is experiencing shortages.
"It's important to have dialogue with the physicians leaving and find out why, from the board's standpoint because they might not want to share some things with the administrators," Dr. Kinder said.
Dr. Kinder said she has stayed so long because she is attached to her patients and the community.
She also said she likes the hospitalist program in place at the hospital. The hospital contacted a rural hospitalist group a year ago that sends in doctors, primarily trained in internal medicine, for 10 day rotations to cover most of the admissions and relieve the burden of having doctors on call.
"We have to continue the dialogue between current physicians, those leaving, the board and administration to see what steps we need to put in place to recruit and retain physicians," said Dr. Kinder. "It's just going to get more competitive."
Darian can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org