Skip to main content

Physician Recruitment Amid the Pandemic – Keeping Your 2021 Staffing Plan on Track

Jackson Physician Search
July 24, 2020

Prior to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, a June poll conducted by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) showed that the majority of medical practices (87 percent) have recovered at least some patient volume since COVID-19 took hold in the U.S., and almost half of those reported patient volumes to at least 75 percent of their pre-pandemic levels.

Today, the pandemic is charting in the wrong direction with some states seeing record increases in new cases, especially among younger Americans. Because every day brings new data points, it’s challenging for healthcare administrators to reliably predict the impact on patient volumes, staffing needs and revenue projections.

What is important to acknowledge is that any decrease in current physician staffing requirements is temporary. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently reminded us that the physician shortage is going to continue to challenge the industry’s ability to meet patient demand. For administrators who are understandably stretched thin during the pandemic, taking their eyes off physician recruitment could put their 2021 staffing plan at risk. Let’s take a deeper dive, so you can keep your staffing plan on track.

Focus on the Long Game

It was in June when the AAMC released new information confirming long-held concerns about the physician shortage. It is now estimating the U.S. is facing a deficit of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians in both primary and specialty care by 2033 – higher than previously reported.

The sixth annual study was conducted prior to the rise of COVID-19, and AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, posits that “the gap between the country’s increasing health care demands and the supply of doctors to adequately respond has become more evident as we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The AAMC study indicated a greater shortage projection, particularly in subspecialties, due to an updated estimate of physicians planning to retire earlier than previously modeled.

Additionally, it showed that more than two out of five active physicians will be 65 or older within the next 10 years. Shifts in retirement patterns – including physicians choosing to retire earlier or work fewer hours as they approach retirement – will have significant implications on the doctor shortage over the coming decade.

Recognizing the retirement dilemma and its impact on staffing levels, Jackson Physician Search commissioned a survey of healthcare administrators and physicians. One of its findings was a disparity in how much notice to give when retiring, illustrating a mismatch between administrator expectations and doctor intentions. Most doctors prefer to give six months’ notice, while administrators would ask for up to three years’ notice.

-> Download The Realities of Physician Retirement Whitepaper

This means that administrators who are only concerned with current staffing needs are already behind. Considering that it takes up to six – nine months to recruit a physician and receive a signed contract, and up to an additional year before the physician begins employment, a strategic long-term physician recruitment plan eliminates unnecessary and costly delays. Part of this plan includes candid conversations with physicians to avoid disparities between physicians’ intentions as they approach retirement and administrator expectations as they plan for physician recruitment and staffing.

In addition to the estimates above, effective staffing planning require healthcare facilities to know their ideal candidate’s anticipated availability and to add that to the recruitment timeline. For example, residents are available for new opportunities in the summer, so waiting to recruit until spring is often too late. While more seasoned physicians are potentially available year-round, they face issues like non-compete agreements and lengthy resignation notice periods.

Retain Physicians to Lessen Recruitment Burden

It’s not uncommon to find a lack of alignment between employers and employees with regard to engagement and satisfaction in the workplace, and these disconnects can be found in medical facilities as well.

In the webinar “Hiring Physicians During COVID-19” conducted in June with MGMA, only 9.7 percent of administrators reported feeling concerned about losing their most valuable employees due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we polled physicians via our email newsletter and email job ads and two-thirds of those who responded indicated that COVID-19 has prompted them to look for a new job.

Disparities in perceptions could lead administrators to feel overly confident that their valued physicians won’t look for work elsewhere, further indicating that administrators should keep an eye on recruitment.

People can only manage under crisis scenarios for so long before it begins taking a toll on their mental health and physical wellbeing. Physicians facing longer hours, less sleep and more critical care patients as a result of COVID-19 can experience burnout quickly.

In January and prior to the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Medical Association found an overall burnout rate of 42 percent among doctors responding to an online survey.

Physicians left disengaged by burnout, poor fit in a role and in difficult working conditions can result in more turnover and vacant roles. Even with an increased emphasis on mental wellness, physician turnover is inevitable. As a result, a healthcare facility may experience thousands of dollars in recruiting costs to fill the roles, loss of revenue due to lack of capacity, and unhappy patients and coworkers.

Understanding Physician Recruitment Return on Investment

To help facilities quantify the cost of recruiting for vacant roles based on specialty and how long the position has been open, as well as show revenue a facility may have missed out on while the position has gone unfilled, Jackson Physician Search developed a Physician Recruitment ROI Calculator.

For example, an internal medicine role unfilled for just three months means lost revenue of more than $220,000. An Emergency Medicine role unfilled for the same time means lost revenue of more than $480,000. The Physician Recruitment ROI Calculator also shows average time-to-fill compared to Jackson Physician Search’s time-to-fill to help healthcare administrators evaluate how much revenue can be saved.

-> Try the Physician Recruitment Calculator to See What a Faster Time-to-Fill Is Worth to Your Organization

All of these data points and trends indicate that physician recruitment is still an important activity in maintaining and growing your organization, especially as you look to your 2021 staffing plans. As the accrued costs to fill a vacant role can reach over $1 million depending on specialty, it’s critical to manage this time-consuming process efficiently.

If you need a strategic recruitment partner to help you navigate physician recruiting during the pandemic and beyond, Jackson Physician Search is ready to help every step of the way.  Contact our experienced recruitment professionals today to learn more about how we can make a difference.

partner icon

Partner With Jackson Physician Search

Recruiting physicians, physician executives, and advanced practice providers requires a partner with a proven track record of delivering on the toughest recruiting challenges. Since 1978, our team has delivered for thousands of clients nationwide, filling their searches quickly and cost-effectively from our extensive network.

Initiate a Search