The Memorial Hospital seeks two primary care doctors | CraigDailyPress.com

The Memorial Hospital seeks two primary care doctors

Tight market makes the search for general practice physicians a challenging one

Michael Neary

Jennifer Riley, chief of marketing and business development for The Memorial Hospital in Craig, is working to recruit primary care doctors to the TMC Medical Clinic.

— Staff members at The Memorial Hospital, in Craig, are looking to hire family practice, or primary care, doctors — and the road to finding them is not an easy one.

"Right now we are searching for two full-time primary care doctors," said Jennifer Riley, TMH chief of marketing and business development. She said the hospital only has one full-time primary care doctor right now — Dr. Elise Sullivan, who practices at TMH Medical Clinic.

"We really need at least two more," Riley said.

Riley said the demand for primary doctors is increasing as more people become insured through the Affordable Care Act. She noted, too, that Dr. Jonathan Hamilton, another primary care doctor, left the clinic in January to work in Steamboat Springs.

THM Medical Clinic also employs four physician assistants, Riley said. Two of them work in urgent care, and two work in family practice, seeing regular patients.

"They do a great job, but there is a need to have that higher level of care," she said.

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Riley described the difficulty of recruiting general practice doctors.

"With the demand growing and the supply shrinking, it's challenging," she said.

Riley also noted a geographical obstacle to recruitment.

"Craig is in a rural part of the state, it's in a rural community," she said. "That's not necessarily appealing to everyone."

Riley said that while the relative smallness of the community — along with the vastness of the outdoor world — may serve as a draw for some doctors, it might pose a difficulty for a spouse who's also be seeking work.

Riley also noted some of the benefits that the new physicians would receive.

“We provide all of their insurance coverage as well as offer competitive benefits that include loan repayment,” she said.

The difficulty of landing general practice doctors does not appear to be unique to this area. At a recent TMH Board of Trustees' meeting, Interim CEO John Nickens drew from an article by Emma Flood, published in MarketWatch and other outlets, chronicling a shortage of primary care doctors that's hitting rural areas especially hard.

As for physician assistants, the clinic already has as many as state law will allow. Riley said that in Colorado, a physician assistant must be supervised by a doctor within the same specialization, and that a doctor can only supervise four of them — the number currently practicing at the clinic.

Nurse practitioners, she noted, can practice without supervision — and so the hospital is open to hiring people in that field. Riley said an interim nurse practitioner is starting work in the clinic within a couple of weeks or so.

"It may be something that turns into a permanent (position) down the road if it's a good fit for both of us," she said.

Visits to the clinic are consistently higher this year than last. This past February, the clinic recorded 1,872 visits, compared to 1,578 in February 2015. But family practice visits began to go down in January and February, with the departure of Dr. Hamilton. Around that same time, convenient care visits — sometimes referred to as urgent care visits — increased. With only one primary care doctor, Riley said, the patient balance tends to shift to convenient care.

"We're doing a good job of triaging patients and saying, 'I think you could probably be seen today in the walk-in clinic because it sounds like you have something that could be treated quickly,'" Riley said.

Riley also said the wait for an appointment as a family practice patient in the clinic, by either the doctor or one of the physician assistants, is not a long one.

"If you want an appointment, and you need to be seen by Dr. Sullivan or by (physician's assistants) Carol (Bolt) or Neilene (Folks), we can generally get you in within two to three days," she said.

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.