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As much as $250,000 leaves North Dakota every year to recruit doctors an official at UND's Center for Rural Health says. "We are not getting a lot for that," adds Mary Amundson a project director at the center.

Hazen's Sakakawea Medical Center recently spent several months and more than $22,000 recruiting a surgeon for Mercer County Hospital and county officials thought they hit the jackpot when a doctor agreed orally to practice medicine at Sakakawea Medical Center and Beulah's Missouri Slope Medical Arts Clinic. But the doctor accepted a position in another state before signing a formal contract in Mercer County. "It's a risk, said Dan Howell Sakakawea's administrator. "You spend money and sometimes you don't get results."

Last week, Howell got a commitment from Beulah city officials to help pay for up to half of another search. The quest begins anew this week, when Howell plans to sign a contract with a physician recruitment firm. Sakakawea Medical Center was luckier than some. Its thousands earned five prospects, two on-site visitors and one would be taker. "Would we do it again?" Howell asked "In a heartbeat."

No other choice

Hospitals have no other choice said Mike Piper administrator of Lisbon's Community Memorial Hospital and Nursing Home. His facility has been searching for a physician for "two to three years at least." Even if rural health-care facility are teetering financially, they still must pay the expense of recruiting physicians when they are shorthanded. "It is kind of a dilemma," Piper said. "But you have to do it. That's one of the secrets of keeping a small hospital viable." A family practitioner can gross a health-care facility up to $400,000 yearly, he said Doctors are therefore a type of economic development. On the average, Piper said the tab runs around $25,000 to try to recruit a doctor -- a small investment for such a large return.

Jim Thill administrator of Garrison Memorial Hospital, agrees But he said those figures represent only direct recruiting costs. Indirect costs -- ranging from administrators' time sign-up fees, moving expenses establishing offices for new graduates can easily boost the bill another $20,000. Garrison Memorial's recruitment dollars were not spent in vain last year, Thill said. The hospital landed a doctor. Another $16,000 has been spent so far this fiscal year testing the waters again.

In December, UND's Center for Rural Health conducted an information survey Combined the 40 facilities reported a shortage of 34 family practice physicians, seven internal specialists, three general surgeons and 13 nurses practioners of physicians' assistants.

Recruitment money alone may not be able to lower that figure. Money can't change North Dakota's location, provide jobs for doctors spouses or ensure certain lifestyle preferences, Amundson said.

"There are lots and lots of reasons why (doctors) don't come," she said.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, April 28, 1993