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What Keeps a Medical Recruiter Awake at Night

Medical Recruiter Awake at Night

Ever since the Jayant Patel debacle, there has been intense scrutiny on the recruitment process of doctors, and other healthcare professionals in Australia. The story and prison release of Dr Suresh Nair renewed public interest and discussion on how an ‘impaired’ doctor can continue to practice, while at the same time spiraling into the depths of a depraved, cocaine-fueled personal life.

It is the waking nightmare of every medical recruiter to place a doctor who performs poorly in a position.  Thankfully, this is extremely rare. The bulk of the doctors I have worked with exceed expectations in the positions they are placed into. All of these doctors have gone through a selection process.

The anatomy of the selection process hasn’t changed so much over time. An interview, a CV review, reference checks, and documentation processes. AHPRA has added some rigor to the process at the front-end, but on the practical level, this registration process only screens out the most obvious and severe of problems.

Dr Nair was, by many accounts, a talented, caring surgeon. A little odd, maybe, but often the very best clinicians are, no? Much of his success in concealing his troubled self may be attributed to the ‘front’ he put up for years – fooling both his co-workers and patients.

When I see cases like that of Suresh Nair, I imagine myself in the position of the person who recruited him and wonder if there was anything at the start of his employment to suggest his troubled side.

There are some obvious warning signs we look out for during the recruitment process. We work alongside the employer to make sure they are satisfied with the veracity of the work history and qualifications stated on the CV. We talk to referees, and sometimes current and previous employers. We conduct online searches, and check registration on the AHPRA website.

In other words, we do everything we can to make sure that healthcare professional is who they say they are, they have the right experience, and qualifications to do the job. We also make sure the senior clinicians at the employing facility agree with this assessment.

Notwithstanding the rigor of the selection process, in most cases, we rely on the honesty of the individual. In my ten-plus years of medical recruitment, I have learnt that there is no way of identifying a person of any profession who has a concealed impairment. I make the basic assumption that people are like icebergs, you only see what’s on the surface. A doctor who presents as the perfect candidate may well be. Or they may be in all respects, except for one thing.

I believe the final ‘gut check’ is crucial. I look for little inconsistencies, or something that just doesn’t feel right.

People are fallible. AHPRA and the HCCC are fallible. Healthcare professionals, especially those in stressful positions are prone to the potential of out-of-the-ordinary behaviour as a coping mechanism. For some, that may be in the form of a few extra drinks after work, or a 30km run. For others, that may be seeking out more sinister activities.

There is nothing we as recruiters, hospitals or healthcare facilities as employers, or government agencies can do do address the issue of a concealed impairment. Until real warning signs start showing, and people start to notice them, problems will simply bubble under the surface until they resolve, or worse even, result in a situation so extreme as Dr Nair’s story.

This is what keeps me awake at night.


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