Mercy Clinic's R. Cole Goodman on Recruiting - and Retaining - Physicians in Fort Smith

Mercy Clinic's R. Cole Goodman on Recruiting - and Retaining - Physicians in Fort Smith
R. Cole Goodman

Dr. R. Cole Goodman got his license to practice medicine in 1973. He was chief of surgery at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith in 1985 and 1990. Goodman was chief of staff there in 2010 and 2011. He also serves as director of Wound Management & Prevention for Mercy Hospital Fort Smith. Since Goodman became president of Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Communities in January 2010, the clinic has grown from 26 physicians to 119 and from five advanced practice nurses to 42. He also practiced plastic and reconstructive surgery in Fort Smith from 1978-2009.

Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Communities recently announced it was building a 13,500-SF clinic across the street from the planned Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Why does this arrangement make sense?

The Mercy Clinic Primary Care Physician building recently announced on the campus of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education is a next logical step in the development of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Mercy Clinic Fort Smith has agreed to provide care for students of the proposed DO school in this building, making access more convenient for them. Also, the development of a planned community similar to Seaside, Florida, surrounding this campus means the people living here will have ready access to primary care physicians. We also have made some design tweaks to allow for teaching of the students here as well as having a school faculty member present to see patients and teach.

Are there special challenges when a city the size of Fort Smith has two hospitals?

The Fort Smith medical community serves more than 450,000 people in five counties in Oklahoma and eight counties in Arkansas. Fort Smith has to have two viable hospitals. The special challenge is to be able to recruit and retain physicians and advanced practitioners to provide access to care. To that end Mercy Clinic was established and has grown more than 400 percent from September 2011 to today. Sixty-five of those physicians are new to Fort Smith and our surrounding communities. At present, we have 120 practicing physicians and 45 advanced practitioners in 11 communities and 43 different clinic offices. We have 11 more physicians under contract to start in 2016 and are expanding to a 12th community.

Do you think that one day Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Communities will have to form some sort of a partnership with another health care organization to survive?

Mercy Clinic Fort Smith Communities is ahead of the curve as far as a partnership with another health care organization. We are a nonprofit clinic integrated in the Sisters of Mercy Health System, also a nonprofit. We are equal but separate partners with the hospitals. Mercy Health System is the sixth-largest Catholic/Christian health system in the United States. Mercy Clinic is the second-largest integrated multispecialty clinic in the U.S. with more than 2,000 physicians in our eight major clinics.

What challenges are you facing as Mercy Clinic president?

Primarily, the leadership team and I are responsible for the recruitment of physicians and advanced practitioners. We have to prioritize our needs and how we will be able to make the investment in them. If a clinic quits recruiting, it becomes stagnant and will die. Retention is the next biggest challenge. Nationwide, the figure is about 12 percent turnover yearly. At present, we’re at about 7.5 percent. Then the staffing of each office to keep it open is a real challenge. Our clinic has openings today for 14 LPNs. We are working with the nursing schools to try to become better partners and become innovative in how we teach.