How Viral Recruitment saved our practice

It was the summer of 2019 and we were in trouble.

Since the retirement of our senior partner in 2017 we had been trying to find her replacement. And we had failed. We were a nice practice, with a nice income, and nice patients in a nice neighbourhood – and nobody wanted to join us. Something needed to change. And fast. Otherwise we might fold.

How did we get there?
We had been a very stable practice with the same 3 GPs working together since 1999. When retirement loomed, we did our homework and looked at how people advertised. We had did all the right things. Advertised in the right places. With nice adds that told you about our nice location and nice patient numbers and nice QOF and nice CQC. In the first round of adverts we had precisely two applicants, one of whom pulled out. And the doctor who joined us left after a year. We advertised again and only had one applicant, who again left after a year

Recruiting but different
We didn’t think we could go through the expense and delay of yet another round of formal advertising – especially as we had no guarantee that we would get a person who would stay. We realised that generic adverts invited people in but they only found out what we were really like after they joined us. If we wanted to recruit people who would stay long term we needed them to know what it would be like to work here before they even contacted us.

Our new adverts were written as blog style emails that discussed current issues in General Practice and our approach to them. They posed questions and invited people to decide what they thought. They were designed to be genuinely helpful and thought provoking whether or not you were looking for a new job. And the only “advertising” was a note at the end to contact us if you liked what we were talking about.

These were the first few titles

  • Do you think GP is a good career?
  • Will continuity make your career better?
  • Is GP partnership dead?
  • Do we really need GP receptionists?

So, did they work?
Over the next year, we recruited two excellent young but experienced GPs who had moved to the area and they are now our partners. Neither of them contacted us as a direct result of one of our “blogverts”, but they had heard about us from others and were interested. Not everyone agrees with our views, but that doesn’t matter. The point is that we aren’t a vanilla practice blending into the crowd. Love us or hate us we are different. And for some people those differences will draw them to us.

How do you write a Viral Advert?
Start by thinking how you can give something to reader. What do you know or what can you contribute that will help them or be interesting? What is special about how you do things in your practice that you can share? Or what groups of patients do you have particular expertise in looking after? Homeless? Travellers? Refugees? Students? It doesn’t matter what it is, but it needs to be something you really care about – because it won’t be the same if you’re not passionate. The point is that content is key – it is your gift to others and how you make them feel that will stick in their minds. Trust me, no one ever discusses your CQC rating over coffee.

Tell your story
Since the times of the Greeks, Romans and Incas, people have used stories to communicate. Even this article is a story – because people remember stories. Sharing what, how and why you did what you did will make you memorable, and it will make what you say more believable. Help people imagine what it would be like to work with you. Don’t whitewash over the mistakes either – for people to trust what you’re saying, they need to see you “warts and all”.

Focus on making a great long-term career
Viral Recruitment is not about fooling people or conning them that working with you will be better than it actually is. It is about creating a good work experience and then letting news of it spread by word of mouth. This means having a good hard look at what is working and what isn’t. It needs leadership, team building, culture building, honesty and openness to change. Never, ever, ever, ever do the easier short-term thing if it will make things harder in the long term. Be generous. Give time to your LMC. Support your local practice managers’ group. Host your local First 5 group.

Start early and keep going
One of our biggest mistakes is that we didn’t start doing anything about recruiting until six months before my partner left. We were quite comfy with the 3 of us working together for 18 years and hadn’t thought about needing to be noticed. We were sure that there must be someone out there who would want to join us because we were a nice little practice. The problem was that there was no way to tell our advert apart from all the other adverts for nice little practices. Profile and reputation take time to build and are based on what you genuinely do for others. It is by consistently contributing and “walking the walk” that you build a name for yourselves.

And that is why people will want to hear when you have a vacancy.