The Calgary-based healthtech startup, which describes itself as “Canada’s medical staffing network,” offers a smartphone-based self-serve job-matching app that connects doctors to medical clinics seeking to fill locum positions. Locum, which is short for the Latin phrase locum tenens, means ‘place holder.’ In a healthcare context, a locum is a person who fills a temporary position at a hospital or medical practice for someone who is sick, has taken vacation, or is on personal leave.
“It just really highlighted the fact there was no central platform for physicians to actually arrange this temporary coverage through.”
According to Dr. Jordan Vollrath, Cherry Health’s co-founder and CEO and a practicing family physician, everyone in the medical space “relies on this steady flux of locums.” Vollrath likened this process to how classrooms operate by using substitute teachers. “If you just shut down the doors, people start getting sick, things fall apart quickly, so you’ve got to have this constant relief support to take care of things in your absence,” Vollrath told BetaKit in an interview.
Vollrath said it was already tough to find and fill temporary doctor positions pre-pandemic, and COVID-19 only made things worse—particularly in rural areas. To help tackle this problem, Cherry Health has secured $1.23 million CAD in pre-seed financing led by Well Health’s venture arm, Well Ventures, to build “a centralized locum network.”
Cherry Health’s April pre-seed financing was raised via convertible note. In addition to Well Ventures, the round also saw participation from Regina’s Broad Street Bulls, Calgary tech incubator and venture firm M-Tech Innovations, and a group of doctor angels that includes Dr. Parker Vandermeer, a rural Alberta physician.
While this round marks Cherry Health’s first venture financing, the startup has also previously secured $100,000 in funding from the Canadian Medical Association’s Joule innovation grant program.
From experience working as a full-time locum family physician in Alberta, Vollrath learned that there were “so many loops and barriers” to finding and having subsequent locum jobs lined up in a row. “It was a really big logistics headache, even though there was no shortage of work to be done,” he said. “It just really highlighted the fact there was no central platform for physicians to actually arrange this temporary coverage through.” According to Vollrath, COVID-19 “stressed this system even further.”
“People were traveling less, people were moving around less, and there was just less available labour to go around,” said Vollrath. “And then, of course, the increased demand as people got more sick.”
Cherry Health aims to do its part by serving as a staffing and recruiting locum network to help other physicians get the time off and temporary relief coverage they need—while also helping to address the growing issue of physician burnout along the way. The startup was founded in 2020 by Vollrath, CTO Maximilian Kerz, and COO Adrian Mitchell.
Since then, Cherry Health has grown to serve more than 2,300 physicians and about 690 medical clinics and facilities. According to Vollrath, Cherry Health has seen eight percent month-over-month growth in terms of physicians joining its platform.
According to Vollrath, locum doctor jobs are filled by a variety of people, some of whom are new grads looking to gain a foothold in the industry and learn where and how they like to practice, while others have spent their entire career working locum positions in search of flexibility.
Cherry Health’s revenue model, which the startup has just begun to roll out, resembles a staffing or recruiting agency. Vollrath claimed that while there are some small agencies doing healthcare recruiting in Canada, there’s nothing on the national stage or at the scale of Cherry Health.
“That really is kind of like the magic ingredient to what we’re doing here, is building that network through that free locum network that really is kind of this centralizing magnet helping to defragment all the smaller places, the websites, the job boards, the agencies, and really get everyone into one platform and make things smoother and easier,” said Vollrath.
Compared to a typical job board, Vollrath claims Cherry Health offers more than just posting capabilities, including a more comprehensive index, as well as the ability to actively outreach, search for, and connect with talent.
“We’re building a community into it as well,” said Vollrath. “The ability to interact and engage with your peers and your colleagues and collaborate on patient care issues.”
According to Vollrath, the startup’s goal with this approach is to keep all recruiting leads warm and engaged. “They may not be taking a job today, tomorrow, or next week, but next month, next year, [and] we’re still providing community and value for them,” he said. “When it comes time to switch over to some greener grass, there’s still warming in the system.”
Since April 2020, Cherry Health has grown to serve more than just locums, connecting physicians to a variety of short-term, long-term, part-time, and full-time positions at medical clinics. The startup’s platform is now available to “all types of doctors” in all Canadian provinces and territories.
Currently accessible on iPhone and Android, Cherry Health plans to roll out a desktop version of its platform by the end of June.
For the time being, Cherry Health remains “very focused” on the family medicine and primary care spaces. As the startup grows, Vollrath says it will move more into specialized areas and allied healthcare, including nursing.
Ultimately, Cherry Health’s big picture goal is to build a “digital home for doctors, and eventually, other types of allied healthcare professionals.” Over the longer-term, the startup intends to expand beyond recruiting to also help with day-to-day staffing, scheduling, and clinic operations, as it builds Cherry Health into a more “vibrant” digital community.
Feature image courtesy Cherry Health.