The pulse of Cardiology in the Last Frontier: Heart health requires lifelong attention.

Author:Simonelli, Isaac Stone

The "Gray Tsunami"--the aging population in Alaska--is driving increased demand for cardiological services, Alaska Heart & Vascular Institute CEO Robert Craig III says.

"Cardiology typically serves patients in an older age category. If we were to do a per capita need for cardiology services in the state, I could probably hire another twenty cardiologists and just meet the need of what this state alone has," Craig says. "It's continually evolving--for our state in particular, it's a growing need for cardiology."

Alaska Heart b Vascular Institute, managed by Craig and a board of five physicians, comprises thirty-two cardiologists offering services from diagnostic testing and heart rhythm management to heart failure and interventional cardiology.

Challenges of Growth

One of the biggest challenges Craig says he faces with operating the Alaska Heart & Vascular Institute is recruiting highly qualified staff.

"When I do physician recruitment, I have to cast a wide net--a really wide net--throughout the entire Lower 48 to entice a physician up here," Craig says. "There are some great people that are up here in Alaska, and we leverage that as much as we possibly can. But there are times when we've got to bring somebody up from the Lower 48."

In addition to a substantial salary, Craig says his team focuses on 401k and healthcare benefits--as well as other fringe benefits--when creating a compensation package to attract top talent to the state.

"We try to be as creative as possible ... We're constantly doing employee engagement surveys and taking the pulse of our staff to find out what are the issues for them and making them feel like they're part of the organization," Craig says. "I meet with every new employee as they come in. I always tell them they're here because we only hire the best people and it's my job to keep those people."

Alaska Heart & Vascular Institute also attracts physicians through its ownership structure. The company is set up as an independent physician practice, owned by twenty-one of the thirty-two practicing physicians with the company. The physicians who are not owners are either part-time or considered "employed physicians."

"Having physicians control their destiny is a big selling point for a lot of them," Craig says.

Though some staff--often members of a military family--are hired locally, for the most part physicians are brought up from the Lower 48, Craig says.

However, once cardiologists make it to Alaska, the retention rate is above national levels, Craig says. In his four years with the company, only two physicians on his team have moved out of state.

"I think right now my turnover...

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