Innovators in Recruitment: Cary Sullivan at the Guthrie Clinic

Posted by Doximity TF Team

Cary Sullivan of the Guthrie Clinic

When you work with Cary Sullivan, there’s one thing you can be certain she’ll say a lot: “I’ll take it on.” 

Sullivan started working in healthcare for a physician practice at just 16, then she landed a spot at an HMO in Buffalo, New York when she was 21. She says the HMO had great vision and it was a perfect fit for her. Sullivan worked in the member services department and then central medical administration, and because she was doing a job that was new and undefined she moved desks frequently. At one point she ended up at a desk in the MIS department – surrounded by graduate students (one of the HMO’s founders taught at SUNY). She joined in football betting pools with the MIS department. She even baked for them. In return, they taught her how the databases were organized. She became proficient at pulling data and presenting graphs that told a story with data. It was undoubtedly a win-win.

Sullivan spent half of her time forecasting and trending and half of her time as a physician-recruiting liaison. She says it was a fun, interesting place to learn, but above all they were great at training. “If you put your hand in the air, they knew you weren’t an expert but they were willing train you,” she says. Since Sullivan was always one to put her hand in the air, she learned a lot about a field that is constantly changing.

"I've always believe that where a person lives should never be a factor in the quality of healthcare they recieve - or the type of physician that cares for them."

While she was working at the HMO, Sullivan’s target audience was newly trained physicians, but then it also became physicians who were “exiting” or close to retirement. They didn’t want to deal with the “business” of medicine any longer (sounds familiar) so they were happy to join the ranks of the HMO. In fact, during Sullivan’s tenure the HMO went from 22k members to over 425k! That success launched her into the heart of today’s medical staffing issues. “Healthcare reform means physicians are switching back to that employee model (like an HMO) because it means physicians can be employed and no longer have to deal with running and managing the business side of medicine, as well as increased healthcare regulations,” says Sullivan.

Today, Sullivan is in her tenth year recruiting physicians for the Guthrie Clinic and her adulation for their history and core values is obvious when you speak to her.

"The Guthrie CLinic has always been a collaborative, integrated health care system. In fact, we have always had ONE central patient record."

220px-Dr-donald-guthrie-mdA non-profit, physician-led organization, the Guthrie Clinic is an integrated health system that is patterned after the Mayo Clinic. Founder Donald Guthrie, MD, trained with the Mayo brothers in rural Minnesota and later established the Guthrie Clinic when he became the second hospital administrator of Robert Packer Hospital. The hospital was built in 1910 near the Pennsylvania rail yards and served first as an infirmary for injured railway workers. Did you know that Dr. Guthrie also started a residency-training program for general surgery? One of the Mayo brothers sent his own son to train under Dr. Guthrie at Robert Packer hospital. Dr. Guthrie was also one of the founding members of the American Board of Surgery. In 1912, he wrote a report to the hospital Board of Directors that contained this well-known statement:

"The science of medicine and surgery are far too broad for any one man to master." - Donald Guthrie, MD

What’s the biggest recruiting challenge Sullivan has to overcome today?

There was no hesitation when she answered this question: "Getting doctors to work in rural locations—really rural locations.” We hear that a lot, but Sullivan puts it into clear perspective: To pipeline a family medicine physician candidate for an opportunity with the Guthrie Clinic, Sullivan first looks at the metrics. There are 89,030 licensed family physicians available to work in the U.S. right now, but only 12% of them are willing to move; of those 12% a mere 13.8% are open to working in a rural community. That means her pool of candidates is 1,474 total – fewer than 30 family physicians per state!

Ithaca, New YorkThis is where Doximity Talent Finder comes into play.

“Physicians have long had their own societies by specialty,” says Sullivan. “I wanted to find a way to interact with those specialties and Doximity has helped me with just that. I’m always looking for places where physicians congregate, so I’d been watching the Internet and physician space for a while and happened upon Doximity,” says Sullivan. She knew Doximity’s National Sales Manager, Jim Murray, from the New England Journal of Medicine so she called him up and asked him about Doximity. His reply was simply: “It’s everything you think it is.”

Establishing connections and building trust. 

"The first order of physician recruiting is build a relationship of trust. If they are commonalities, it helps the process immensely."

Before she does anything, Sullivan uses Doximity Talent Finder to see if physicians have any immediate connections to the Guthrie Clinic or their staff. “Access to quality candidates is astounding,” says Sullivan. “Plus, it means I already have a warm introduction.”

Not surprisingly, Sullivan is also a firm believer in the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory that says despite the many, many people in the world there’s a six-step chain between you and everyone else. She even participated in a study to prove the theory. For the study, Sullivan was tasked with finding a potter in South Africa. She had once worked with a physician who was from Poland but did rotations in South Africa. So she emailed his spouse, a nurse whose father was an agricultural minister – and ended up finding a potter with four links. Sullivan says, “Even before the Internet, the six degrees of separation theory held true. In fact, we’re really only separated from other people by about four connections.”

Sullivan is also a fan of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, a book about change that examines social epidemics.  According to the author, there are three kinds of people who create a life effect and one of them is the Connectors – the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.

Doximity is Sullivan’s physician recruitment “connector.”

The other priority for recruiting a physician is what Sullivan laughingly refers to as the Elmer FUD Factor. “You have to help physicians overcome their Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about taking a new position and moving their family to a new place—two of the most significant changes we can make in our lives. It is the inherent responsibility of every recruiter to respect the gravity of that decision and to help physicians understand what they need to make an informed decision. And you can’t force fit physicians with positions. A physician has to be confident about his/her decision to make a change or he/she simply won’t stay.”  

Getting the most out of Doximity Talent Finder.

“You know that portion on a Doximity physician profile that says, 'You might also be interested in…?' USE IT. This is a great tool,” says Sullivan. “The pathways physicians take can be complex, but if you really look you’ll learn a lot about subspecialties, training, and commonalities in their career.” She always reviews a physician’s Doximity profile again before she arranges an interview and says she always learns a little more. “It’s important to make interviews as meaningful and productive as possible,” says Sullivan.

Another important tip: Give the tool the time it needs.

“Recruiters are an impatient group of people and they want immediate rewards. Sometimes that happens, but like any thing, truly using Doximity Talent Finder takes time.” Sullivan suggests a dedicated slot on your weekly calendar. “Our team has a weekly meeting we call “Ten at 10” every Monday that takes ten minutes and answers the question ‘what’s our focus this week and who needs help?’ So I figured why not do that for Doximity, too? Her plan is to implement “Doximity Wednesdays” to ensure recruiters spend the time it takes to warrant success.

CTW_600pxKnow the numbers!

Sullivan is also all about the metrics. From DocMail ClickThru rates (which show you what’s working and what’s not), to analyzing clusters of physicians in geographical areas, Sullivan says, you have to know the numbers. “You have to know how many doctors you need to source, that turn into interviews, that result in signed contracts. If I don’t know the numbers, how do I know where we are? When I have a grasp of the numbers, I’m confident I can hit goals but I can’t wait until the end of the year and then hope I have attained our recruitment goals.” She’s such a fan of metrics that she recently subscribed to a web-based referencing program at the Guthrie Clinic to assist with the time it takes to get physician references and to obtain a more thorough reference. It worked. The typical reference time went from two weeks (or more) to 2.7 days. It even included a lead generation question that referencing physicians about their interest in changing positions—and leads increased by nearly 40%.

Sullivan joined the Doximity Recruiter Advisory Board two years ago to put her expertise to work to create an even better physician recruitment sourcing strategy. Do you have a question for her? Put your hand in the air! She is ready to take you on. To download a case study about how Sullivan and the Guthrie Clinic are innovating physician recruitment, click on the button now.

Download the Case Study

Donald Guthrie, MD, photo courtesy of


Topics: The Guthrie Clinic, Innovators in Recruitment, Cary Sullivan

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