Headshot by Hillary Ehlen | Photos of the Sanford Medical Center courtesy of Sanford Media Relations
Patty Absey is in the business of selling Fargo. As the Manager of Physician Recruiting for the Fargo North Region at Sanford, her team and her are responsible for making sure that Sanford has enough physicians. With this unique position, we talked with her about how easy it is to attract people to the community, how much easier her job has gotten in the last several years and, ultimately, what the FM area can do better to attract more people.
Take me through your job and what it entails.
I would say that recruiting is a lot of marketing. It’s a people skills job. We’re trying to connect and build relationships with providers out there. As far as sourcing, that’s our biggest responsibility. We can’t just put an ad out there in the Fargo Forum or the professional journals. We really have to double-time it to source candidates. That would be true, not just for a place like Fargo. Minneapolis finds itself in the same boat working hard to source candidates.
Certainly, when you’re speaking to primary care – that would be family medicine, internal med, psychiatry – you really have to be more creative and work a little bit harder to source them anywhere in the country, but we’re more off the beaten path. We have a rural component. We have a big winter component. We have to be more creative.
How we do that is, we do a lot of emailing. Physicians will sign up on practice opportunity websites. Because we pay a subscription to these sites, we’ll see their profile come through. The algorithm really narrows it down. We’re only seeing candidates that might be interested in our area or practice. They’ve listed North Dakota or Minnesota as a location preference, in-patient work vs. out-patient work. When we see the match, we email them.
We also go to career fairs and national conferences. I did go to the GI Conference in Orlando. I spent three days in a booth talking to folks. I did get two leads there so that’s well worth it. A couple months before that, I was at another GI Conference also in Orlando. I met a gentleman who’s in the military and is from Fargo. He wants to come next summer after he does his 20 years, he’s retiring.
The best stick to a position is when you’re employing somebody with ties to the area. However, we’ve been very successful at recruiting folks who get here and stay.
How directly tied is the success of the community in making your job easier?
It’s huge. Normally, it’s not hard to sell Sanford. Honestly, we bring physicians in and Sanford sells itself. We’re a bigger organization with the tier of research and lots of resources and specialists that they can mentor under. The harder point is the area and even if they have a tie to the area, if that significant other or spouse doesn’t like it here, it doesn’t matter how good Sanford or the community is, you need the significant other’s buy-in.
As far as community, we hear it all the time. When you’re bringing people in who haven’t been to Fargo ever or maybe they interviewed for a residency program here 10-15 years ago and they haven’t been here recently, they come here and they’re impressed. People are impressed with Fargo.
Frequently, they have a significant other and you need that buy-in too. That’s the hardest thing.
What does that new medical center mean for you, Sanford and Fargo in general?
It’s a lot of wow factor. Typically, you end your day there. They’ve talked to so many people throughout the day and I’ve been chatting up Fargo. I’ve been telling them stats, telling them our student population from September to May. They’ll be standing in the elevator and they’ll look around and they’re like, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been in a brand new hospital.’ I think I hear it from all of them. They’re like, ‘I’ve been in a new wing. I’ve been in a remodeled hospital. Never in a brand new hospital, though.’
What it means for us is, our five-year growth is looking like it’s growing a great deal every year. It means, we have a lot of job stability for recruiting for the next couple years.
What’s the most common reason doctors aren’t coming? And what can Fargo do to make your job easier?
If we talk about community not being a fit, I would say that weather is a strong player in that. We are very candid with the candidates about our weather. We let them know straight up that, ‘Fargo is only a place for you if you like four seasons.’
Another reason is it’s too far from where their family or other friends are. Honestly, for candidates themselves, it’s not as hard of a sell. It’s a great organization to work for. That significant other is huge, though. The spouse might not agree that this is the place for them.
You know what’s really helpful in Fargo that is very impressive to candidates? Hector Airport. Easy in, easy out. Direct flights to Chicago, Minneapolis and other cities. Plus, we have Allegiant going to Florida, Mesa, Las Vegas. If we could get another couple of key cities on there, that’s huge. People want to be able to make fewer connecting flights.
Housing isn’t inexpensive here. We hear it all the time from candidates. ‘My wife and I were looking at Zillow and your housing prices aren’t as inexpensive as we thought.’ You have to really balance when you tell somebody about the cost of living here. You have to focus on some of these things that are lower like insurance, car insurance, taxes. You’re going to pay the same around here as you are in the greater Midwest. As you get down in Texas in some of that warmer climate where maybe a lot more folks are looking at, they have lower housing prices.
I can’t stress enough, folks who come here and have never been here, they’re always impressed with Fargo. If I could have anything that’s tangible – I can’t take away the wind or 30 below – the more destinations our airport flies to, the more accessible we’ll be.
While each recruiting visit is tailored specifically to the interests of the physician being recruited, Absey takes us through a typical recruiting visit.
We like them, if they have one, to bring their significant other. That shows a little more commitment. If they are going to bring their three kids, we love that. We’ll bring the whole family in. We coordinate all their travel. Planes, trains and automobiles. We coordinate airfare, rental car, if they want to rent a car, hotel. We strongly encourage a community tour. All of it is voluntary.
When they’re on the community tour, it’s tailored to what they’re interested in. If you have a single person coming in, they don’t want to hear about schools normally. They’re like, ‘Yeah. I’m not there. I’m not buying a big house. I want to see some condos. I like the idea of living downtown.’ Or, ‘I know if I were to take a position with Sanford, I’ll be at the new medical center so I kind of want to see higher-end rentals in that neck of the woods.’
I would say we drive everyone around downtown. We do hit historic eighth street when we’re going between campuses. We do try and show them some of the old, some of the newer neighborhoods, especially if it’s family, we’re doing that southwest area by Costco. It’s beautiful parks with nice new houses. If that’s what they’re into. It’s really tailored to them.
We take them by the Microsoft campus. That’s a big seller. People are completely floored that we have the number two Microsoft office in town. They never even heard of that. That’s a big wow factor. We take them by NDSU and talk about the grassroots tech companies that have started in Fargo.
Biggest recruiting needs
- Primary Care
- Family Medicine
- Clinical Internal Medicine doctors
Thoughts from a new resident
Doctor Jimmy Chim is a plastic surgeon at Sanford who moved from Florida a couple of months ago. Here are his initials thoughts on the community.
Chim grew up in Maryland and went to medical school in Baltimore. From there, he went to Oregon for six years of general surgery. After that, he went to Montreal for a year to do plastic surgery and then decided to complete his training in plastic surgery in Miami. He currently lives in Fargo with his three kids, Genna (1), Quinn (3) and Nora (6) and his wife Taylor.
How he ended up in Fargo…
“After living in Montreal, Miami and a couple of other big cities, my wife and I were tired of the big city life. We were tired of people being rude, tired of the traffic and we didn’t see ourselves raising our kids in the big city anymore.
“We were looking for a smaller town when I was looking for a job. I have a good friend here who’s name is Matt Miller, he’s with the ear, nose and throat department at Sanford. A job opened up so we came out and visited. We really liked the community; it’s more like a small city. More than anything, we liked the people here. It was a world of difference compared to some of the cities we were in.”
What attracted him to the community…
“One of the big things for Sanford was the medical center. It’s quite remarkable. You wouldn’t expect such a state-of-the-art and large medical center in a small community like this. I got shown around town in terms of real estate. We went through downtown. Those are common areas you hang around a lot.”
What attracted him to Sanford…
“I’ve worked in Canada, I’ve worked on both coasts, in Haiti and on mission trips, at the end of the day, it’s really about the people. You can be in the middle of nowhere and have no resources whatsoever but if you have good people, then you can get the job done and really take care of patients. That’s what I really felt strongly about in terms of this institution is that the people here are of the utmost highest quality. You can tell that everybody works hard and takes pride in their work and wants to provide the best care possible for our patients.”
What his kids and wife think about the community…
“They enjoy it quite a bit. They’re making a lot of friends in school and it’s a real easy community to get around in and get things done. You would think that coming to a small town, you would have to order a lot of stuff or maybe even go to the cities, but we really haven’t had to do anything too crazy. Everything we want is right here.”
“When it’s warmer, we love to go downtown. We love going to the Red River Market. I think we went to the farmer’s market probably every weekend. Downtown is so nice and quaint that you can walk through and have a great time. Running into people you know and work with. You feel safe.
“In terms of where we eat, we sort of eat all over. One of the nice things that surprised me when I moved here is that there are a lot of really high-quality restaurants. Just a few blocks from my house is Tru Blu Social Club. My daughter loves going there because it’s fancy and makes her feel special. Me and my wife like to frequent Mezzaluna or Luna here on University or Maxwell’s, which is right down the street from us.”
His thoughts on the school district…
“My six year old (Nora) is at Osgood Kindergarten Center. Next year, she’ll be at Freedom Elementary School. My son is in one of the private Montessori schools right now.
“It’s been very nice. She’s obviously learning a lot. She’s making good friends. Compared to where I came from in Miami, people were lucky to get their kids in a four out of 10 school. It’s great to be in an area where all the schools are eight or nine out of 10.
“I grew up in an area where there were great public schools. I didn’t know how valuable that was growing up. Having moved around quite a lot, you see that not every community values their public school system as much as Fargo does.”
*This article originally appeared in Fargo By Fargo.