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Luring Doctors, Nurses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two new hospitals are scheduled to open in Rio Rancho within the next 10 months, and recruitment efforts are under way to attract medical workers. But national shortages of specialist physicians and nurses mean they will face challenges.

Despite the challenges, those tasked with recruiting for the Presbyterian and University of New Mexico Medical Group hospital say they’re confident of meeting targets.

And experts familiar with bringing doctors to New Mexico say the location of the hospitals, their proximity to the state’s largest metropolis and the chance to work in a regular job rather than build a private practice make them a good proposition.

“Albuquerque is an attractive place for physicians to practice. Look around you — there’s the climate, the affordable lifestyle,” said Jerry Harrison, executive director of New Mexico Health Resources, which specializes in recruiting physicians mostly for the state’s rural areas.

People involved with the recruitment for both hospitals also tout the opportunity to get in at the start in work environments that embody new concepts in patient care.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services’ 68-bed Rust Medical Center at Unser and Black Arroyo, scheduled to open Oct. 22, incorporates numerous design and technological innovations.

UNM Medical Group’s Sandoval County Regional Medical Center, slated to open in June 2012, will be a teaching hospital.

“That does attract doctors who have been in some kind of routine for a while and are looking for opportunities in a new situation,” said David Gonzales, vice president of medical staff affairs and chief medical officer for SRMC.

An orthopedic surgeon who moved from Phoenix, Ariz., in April to work at the new Presbyterian hospital confirmed that.

“As a professional coming into a new place, I’ll have an opportunity to streamline patient care,” Dr. Shawn Baker said.

For him, the size of the city and relative lack of traffic congestion is a plus.

“It’s large enough to have stuff to do, but it’s easy to get around,” Baker said.

Baker is a former Air Force physician who became enamored with New Mexico when he served at Kirtland Air Force Base. Sports medicine, joint replacements and trauma surgery are among his specialties.

The staff at Rust Medical Center will include 85 physicians and 145 nurses, according to a sign on Unser outside the hospital site.

Sandoval Regional Medical Center president and CEO Kevin Rogols said his hospital will have a staff of 350, including 42 physicians.

Some shortages

But Rogols and David Arredondo, executive medical director of the Presbyterian Medical Group, acknowledge they face challenges. Primary care physicians, specialized nursing staff and hospitalists — physicians who care exclusively for patients while they are in the hospital — are among the personnel who are tough to recruit because of heavy demand, they said.

National studies show a growing gap between the demand for physicians and the supply. Figures released in 2010 by the Association of American Medical Colleges estimate the country will be short 63,000 physicians by 2015. The situation is expected to worsen as the overall number of people over 65 years old grows.

New Mexico also has a nursing shortage. A study released this year by the Center for Nursing Excellence said New Mexico ranks 49th out of 51 — the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. — for registered nurses per 100,000 population. That is, 614 compared to the national average of 814.

Furthermore, about 50 percent of nurses living in New Mexico are older than 50 and nearing retirement, said Patricia Boyle, the center’s executive director.

Although nurse training programs are increasing, she said, there could be challenges in ensuring enough experienced nurses are on hand to oversee the new ones.

On pace

Still, Rogols and Arredondo expressed confidence in their organizations’ recruiting expertise through local, state and national channels. Both said relocation packages and signing bonuses are among incentives used to woo specialists to their facilities.

Presbyterian began its recruiting drive about a year ago and expects to have all of its medical staff in place by late September, Arredondo said.

Rogols said his hospital is relying on the UNM Medical Group and the UNM School of Medicine for its recruiting effort, which began about a month ago.

“The response thus far has been pretty positive,” Rogols said, with one anesthesiologist under contract and “a bunch more” physicians in the pipeline.

Both organizations also hope to draw from within their own ranks to staff the new hospitals. Arredondo said some physicians will rotate from other Presbyterian facilities. Rogols said UNM will start an internal recruitment campaign in October seeking nurses, therapists, pharmacists and other nonphysician workers who may live on the West Side or in Sandoval County and prefer not to commute into Albuquerque.

UNM is also working with the Central New Mexico Community College branch in Rio Rancho, which opened in 2010 and has a nursing program.

“The nursing program was included at the Rio Rancho Campus … knowing that there would be more demand with the new hospitals,” said CNM spokesman Brad Moore.

Moore said 32 students in the registered nurse program in Rio Rancho are scheduled to graduate in December. Collegewide, CNM expects 200 students to graduate from its registered nursing programs this academic year. They will have to pass a state licensing board exam to work as nurses.

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