How the Dakotas Keep Their Doctors: Sanford Merit Says: 'We Grow Our Own'

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , May 12, 2010

Next, she says, employees are asked if they have relatives who would like to go to medical school and live in, say, Bismarck.

The system tries to make life easier for doctors who come to this part of the Heartland, too. Many physicians have concerns that one condition of receiving staff privileges might mean they have to take call in the clinic and hospital much more frequently than they would like. Perhaps they might have to be available almost every weekend and holiday.

Morrison says to allay that concern, the system makes sure there are enough backup physicians, even if it means contracting with locum tenens services.

Without having those backup guarantees for a critical access hospital, it can make a noticeable difference. "Loss of one or two doctors can shut a hospital down," she says. "We can tell by looking at the finances when a physician is on vacation" because there are usually fewer admissions.

For patient and physician convenience, the system also embraces the latest technology, such as the InTouch Remote Presence telemedicine robot, which allows a physician to see and speak with a patient in a distant clinic or hospital, through a computer monitor. This saves time and allows specialists to more promptly see patients in remote locations.

There also are signing bonuses, loan forgiveness programs, scholarships, and a bus transportation system for health providers between Sioux Falls and Fargo, three and a half hours away.

This rural region of the country has been such a desirable draw for physician training and has borne such a good crop of doctors, with training programs in internal medicine, surgery, psychiatry, family medicine and pathology, Sanford health leaders thought, why not go for a few more?

That's what they've done. Two new programs were recently added, one for training pediatricians and another for podiatrists.

After all, they grow their own.

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Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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