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Virtual physician career fairs: Should you log on? - Spring 2018

By Maggie Van Dyke, contributing writer for the Journal of ASPR


The physician career fair is getting underway. But instead of manning booths in conference rooms miles from home, in-house recruiters are logging onto their computers or digital devices from their offices or homes to meet with potential candidates virtually. Meanwhile, physicians are taking breaks between patients or after their shifts to attend the career fair on their phones or devices. One chat starts like this:

Physician: “Hi. I’d like to hear more about the opportunities you have available.”

In-house recruiter: “Sure, I can help you with that. Are you open to moving to our state?”

Physician: “Yes, I’ve always wanted to live in your region.”

In-house recruiter: “How much longer until your fellowship is complete?”

Welcome to the expanding world of telerecruiting. While there are no signs that in-person career fairs will be replaced by online events anytime soon, the number of virtual fairs seems to be growing steadily. A variety of stakeholders are sponsoring these online events, including individual health systems (e.g., SSM Health), specialty medical associations (e.g., the American Association of Pediatrics), the Indian Health Services, as well as physician recruitment companies, including CareerMD, MediCruit, and PracticeMatch.

To test the approach, PracticeMatch started off with seven virtual fairs in 2017, both regional and nationwide events. The fairs exceeded the company’s expectations, with more than 400 providers attending a national event in December. To meet demand, the company will offer 13 virtual fairs in 2018.

The pros and cons of virtual fairs are similar to the benefits and challenges of using any digital interactive platform, including Facebook or LinkedIn. In today’s digital age, everyone is trying to find the right balance between connecting virtually and in-person, whether professionally or personally. In addition, with positions to fill and budgets to stay within, in-house recruiters need to be strategic and savvy about getting the most from virtual and in-person fairs. Here is some advice from recruiters and companies experienced in both types of fairs.

Weighing convenience and personal engagement

Time and convenience are two factors to consider when thinking about virtual versus live events. “I can work a virtual fair from anywhere,” says Sarah Krueger, physician recruiter, MidMichigan Health. “Whereas with an [in-person] career fair, you have to pack up all your stuff to go there. It’s more time-consuming than the virtual career fair.”

Virtual fairs also save travel costs. “We as recruiters are always being challenged to cut costs,” says Krueger.

Easy access to virtual events is also a plus for physician recruits, says Madison Harris, career fair operations manager, PracticeMatch. “They can log in from their phones and see who’s exhibiting at a career fair. And, like a live fair, they can pick and choose who they talk to.”

This may explain why physicians are more likely to attend the virtual fairs that they’ve registered for than the in-person fairs. About 80 percent of clinicians who register for PracticeMatch’s virtual fairs end up attending, compared to only 50 percent of in-person fair registrants, says Harris.

On the flip side, live events offer opportunities for more personal connections. “When you’re talking to somebody in person, you can read their nonverbal [cues],” Krueger says. “And physicians may show up with family so you may be able to connect with the spouse, too.”

Another major recruiting company, PracticeLink, currently sponsors live career fairs but has no immediate plans to offer virtual fairs. The company’s primary approach to connecting physicians with recruiters is via its online platform. This platform includes a way for candidates and recruiters to email each other and communicate.

“We see our live career fairs as a value-add for recruiters and physicians,” says Sarah Elkins, director of marketing operations. “They’re already engaging with each other on our platform in a virtual environment, and we want to offer fairs where they can meet and have that magical thing that happens when people are actually connected and in the same place at the same time.”

While video chatting is available via PracticeMatch’s web-based platform, the option is rarely used. Harris theorizes that recruiters and physicians stick with the written chat function when their attire or appearance does not project the put-together professionalism they want to present.

Bridget Mitchell, HCA’s physician recruitment manager, offers an additional explanation. During virtual fairs, she is often chatting with several physicians at once, and each may have a different specialty. “I don’t want to be in front of one doctor for 10 minutes and then flash in front of another doctor,” she said. “They would see the confusion cross my face as I was thinking, ‘I just talked to an anesthesiologist, and now I’ve got to shift gears and talk to you about neurology.’”

Identifying prospects and increasing visibility

Mitchell believes virtual fairs offer an additional way to increase a healthcare organization’s visibility among physicians and identify prospects. “A benefit of virtual fairs is you can get through conversations [with prospects] a little quicker,” says Mitchell. “These are quick nuts-and-bolts conversations. Whereas, with in-person career fairs, you might not be able to talk with as many people during the same timeframe as virtual fairs.”

This benefit may be particularly helpful for healthcare organizations in regions that do not typically attract live career fairs, such as rural areas. “The main reason why PracticeMatch decided to go with the virtual career fairs is that we wanted to find a way to hit different areas across the United States where we might not be able to physically have a live career fair,” says Harris. “That way we could offer career fairs to everyone who isn’t included in the live career fairs.” The price of an exhibitor booth at PracticeMatch fairs is similar in live and virtual events, ranging from approximately $800 to $900 for regional events to $1,500 for national ones. Healthcare organizations are listed alphabetically on the exhibitor list. However, to stick out, organizations can pay extra for a sponsorship. With the virtual fairs, this guarantees that the organization will be one of the first four names physicians see when they log onto the virtual platform.

Per PracticeMatch surveys, recruiters who attend the company’s virtual fairs end up turning ten candidates into leads, on average, says Harris. In comparison, live fairs result in an average of two to three leads.

These survey results are just averages, and results may differ depending on how recruiters define a “lead,” the recruiting goals of their organizations, and other factors. As one of the largest health systems in the country, HCA has a national recruiting department that seeks all types of physician specialists for its 177 hospitals and other organizations across 20 states. For this reason, Mitchell and her fellow in-house recruiters attend lots of career fairs, both national and regional.

So far, the health system is getting more leads from in-person fairs than virtual ones, Mitchell says. In 2017, HCA attended approximately 100 in-person fairs offered by CareerMatch, which reaped approximately 8,300 leads. HCA recruiters also attended more than 100 virtual career fairs in 2017, which were sponsored by CareerMatch and PracticeMatch. From these virtual fairs, HCA obtained 4,205 leads pulled from post-fair registration lists. The virtual fair lists contained more registrants than 4,205, but HCA recruiters had already “touched” these clinicians.

Filling specialist positions

While HCA needs to recruit nationally, recruiters at MidMichigan Health are focused on recruiting specialists interested in living in the Tri-Cities area of central Michigan. For this reason, Krueger and her colleagues focus their career fair efforts on regional events, both virtual and live. “Whenever you do a career fair, you’re kind of playing a little bit of roulette because sometimes you get candidates, and sometimes you get nothing. You have to be very choosy and picky about what you want to do.”

Krueger has found specialty-specific medical conferences and career fairs particularly helpful for recruiting specialists. For instance, Health eCareers runs live career fairs for various physician specialty organizations, like the American College of Rheumatology. “I attended a three-hour Health eCareer fair specific to rheumatology, and they broke us up into regions. That was extremely beneficial because then you’re not talking to somebody who suddenly realizes, ‘Oh, you’re in Michigan. I don’t want to go there. That’s too cold.’” PracticeMatch virtual fairs are not specialty specific and tend to attract more primary care providers than specialists. Of the 39 qualified candidates that HCA recruited in 2017 via PracticeMatch virtual fairs and referred to its hospitals and physician groups, 20 were primary care physicians or advanced healthcare professionals, 10 were internal medicine-based specialists, and nine were surgical specialists or pediatric specialists.

Virtual career fairs are also more likely to attract residents and fellows who may not be ready to accept a job offer. “They may have four years of training left, but thought they’d try a virtual fair,” says Mitchell. “But I can’t help them for four years.”

Finding room for both

Given the pros and cons of both live and virtual fairs, recruiters may want to find time to fit both into their schedules. “I think we’re all trying to break through the noise and connect, whether that connection is happening virtually or in person,” says Elkins. “The challenge is to deliver a message that reduces our audience’s stress instead of adding to the noise and causing them to turn off and tune out.”