Your physician referral program doesn’t work. Here’s how to fix it.

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There’s no mystery about the power of referrals for hiring physicians. 

If you’re a recruiter, you know that word of mouth from a trusted source is the best way to attract top candidates. Report after report finds that employee referrals yield higher quality candidates who have a better chance of fitting culturally, getting hired, and staying longer. As a bonus, data shows that employee referrals shorten the recruiting process and increase retention for the referring employee.    

The benefits of referrals are especially evident when it comes to physicians, who fill such critical and tough-to-place roles for healthcare companies. 

Indeed, the importance of physician referrals is why so many healthcare companies have referral programs. Surveys show that physicians are most likely to take a job if it’s recommended by one of their contacts. 

After personal contacts, physicians are next most likely to take a job because of a recommendation by recruiters. 

Beyond that, there are no other factors that strongly motivate physicians to take a job.

Clearly, physicians and recruiters can go far in placing strong candidates from within a physician’s own trusted network. The problem is that nobody seems to have a good idea about how to make their company’s referral program successful.


Recruiters, you’re probably doing everything you can think of to leverage the power of your company’s own physicians to connect with other physicians. 

Your physician referral program likely consists of a reward to incentivize employees for referrals and an outreach to those employees to remind them about this incentive. Maybe you’ve come up with a few more bells and whistles to draw attention to your program. But you’ve probably been disappointed with the program’s results – or at least wish that you could do better.

The problem is that without a more targeted approach, your program leaves everything to chance. The haphazard nature of physician referral programs is why they’re underused. The response is usually lackluster.

These programs deserve far more precision if they are to become powerful tools for physician placement. 

Why bother with lip service? You need results.


Start by putting yourself deep in the headspace of your physicians. How do they think and behave? What will incentivize them, and how can you get them to respond?

Physicians are busy. Often overwhelmed. When they receive a generic email blast announcing a new open role and soliciting their suggestions, they don’t have the time or inclination to scan through their mental database to even think of a perfect suggestion. 

And they’re likely even less inclined to visit that destination portal you created just for the purpose of recruiting. Really, who wants to add a step of hassle to their busy day?


Once upon a time, you communicated with “business people” and with “consumers.” 

Today, our digitized world means that our two selves are conflated and fluid. Our professional lives are integrated with our personal lives more than ever before. We’re bombarded with messages and communication every day and everywhere; for sheer survival, we have to shut most of it out. 

In fact, we’re motivated by a desire to reduce the noise. That means deleting messages as quickly as possible, trashing all of the “junk.”

You don’t want to be ignored and deleted as junk. You need these physicians to help you with your shared purpose. How can you get through?

Start by shifting your approach in how you relate to physicians as recruiters. Put down the org chart and stop thinking of physicians as employees with a title and a specific role in your healthcare organization’s hierarchy. 

You need to think of them as an audience to engage.

You don’t just want your physicians to give you the name of someone that you can call. You want them to make the introduction.


Physicians are not going to spam their whole networks. They’re only going to stick their necks out for a candidate who is a perfect fit.

And how do they know who’s a perfect fit?

They don’t offhand. Neither do you. But advanced AI technologies do.

Today, machine learning is helping recruiters instantly source ideal candidates, whether passive or active. Predictive analytics can comb through reams of data and identify physicians who show a high probability of interest in and fit for your open role. And AI can also determine who that physician is connected to within your own organization.

This changes the referral game in every way.

What this means is that you can shift your program from generic email blasts that ask, “Do you know anyone for this?” to targeted emails to specific physicians that state, “You know someone for this.”

You’ve pivoted from reactive to proactive. From passenger to driver. From powerless to powerful.


Next mental rehaul: you need to stop thinking that you’re the best person to speak to physician candidates. 

Because you know who’s better? A physician who knows that physician.

You can now engage your physician in reaching out to a specific candidate that has been determined to be a fit.

Your physician is now being supported in a concrete task, not flooded with vague blasts that ask them to do all of the thinking work. Then you can empower that physician to make the connection and introduction. And you still have that monetary incentive to help drive this simple request of your physicians.

Recruiters, you don’t just need different tools to make your referral program work. You need to embrace a whole paradigm shift in how you approach physician recruiting. 

First, adopt a new mindset. Then adopt AI tools that engage your physicians as collaborators instead of pushing them away.  

The next frontier of recruiting is less about traditional recruiting as you have known it, and more about fostering connections. 

How you can enable the referral process? This is what new technologies will help you optimize as long as you change your definition of recruiting.

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