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Recruitment a delicate operation

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Stepping up: Dr. Jeff Heise took over the role of Hancock County's primary general surgeon after Ted and Cam Gabrielsen closed their practice in May. Heise had partnered with the Gabrielsens the last six years.
Stepping up: Dr. Jeff Heise took over the role of Hancock County's primary general surgeon after Ted and Cam Gabrielsen closed their practice in May. Heise had partnered with the Gabrielsens the last six years.

GREENFIELD — Not much has changed in the former office of Gabrielsen Surgical Associates. The waiting room furniture is the same; the staff greeting patients at the sliding glass window hasn’t changed. At first glance, you wouldn’t know a thing was different – save the unassuming sign just left of the practice’s front door inside the Hancock Surgery Center.

It reads: Hancock Surgical Group.

The Hancock Surgical Group was established when the hospital purchased the Gabrielsens’ practice, which closed in May after Ted Gabrielsen retired and his son Cam Gabrielsen accepted a position in Bloomington.

The departure of the Gabrielsens, who had been providing general surgery services to Hancock County for nearly four decades, was certainly felt – but the hospital wanted to be sure that the tradition of quality general surgery services didn’t leave with them.

So Jeff Heise, partner with the Gabrielsens for the last six years, took over the role of the county’s primary general surgeon as the hospital started the search for two new surgeons to work alongside him.

That process has been a long one, said Rob Matt, vice president of development. Matt is helping coordinate the search for the Gabrielsens’ successors, a search that began in February.

The hospital hired a recruitment firm to conduct a nationwide search to fill the open positions. The firm has reached out to a network of about 8,000 surgeons, some who are looking and some who are not. Of the 8,000, so far six have been both qualified and interested.

“The recruitment of a general surgeon is very difficult,” Matt said. “There is one general surgeon for every 10 available positions.”

That isn’t to say the hospital has trouble attracting candidates. The recruitment team has been very picky, too, in the candidates they wish to interview.

“We want them to be quality people, as well as quality surgeons,” said Heise, who has been active in the recruitment process.

Four of the six physicians who interviewed with the hospital have taken jobs elsewhere. Matt said those decisions primarily came down to location; several doctors were offered jobs closer to family.

Two offers are still outstanding and the candidates could make decisions as soon as this month. But because physician recruitment is a unique process, those physicians can take their time making decisions and visiting other hospitals.

Securing another full-time surgeon would be welcome news to Heise. His case load has increased from about 50 patients per month when the practice was full to about 70 since the Gabrielsens left. There are also four rotating Locum Tenens – literally meaning place holder – general surgeons who have helped lighten the load. Locum Tenens are certified, qualified surgeons who specialize in traveling around the country, filling open positions temporarily. Ted Kovacev, Winn Gregory, Jamie Mosher and Joseph DeFeo will stay with the new practice until the positions are filled permanently. Without them, Heise said it wouldn’t be possible to meet the community’s surgical needs.

“It’s been a little overwhelming,” Heise said. “There’s no way one person could do everything.”

Eventually, the hospital would like to find a fourth full-time surgeon to join the practice. If the community continues to grow as it has been, Matt said they will need to grow the practice.

While all involved would like to have the positions filled as soon as possible, they are not rushing the process. The most important part, Heise said, is finding qualified surgeons who will fit in well with the practice – people the staff will want to work with, patients will want to see and who will carry on what the Gabrielsens started.

“The community has been getting excellent surgical care for the past 40 years,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to match that, but it’s something we want to try to do.”

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