New report shows surprising reversal in physician job market

By Physician Sense
Published July 23, 2020

Key Takeaways

A new physician jobs report offers some jarring insights: Demand for physician recruiting has slackened by more than 30% and the number of physicians seeking work is up. This suggests that overall demand for physicians is down, and like much of the current US economic disruption, the culprit is COVID-19. The good news is that the downturn likely isn’t permanent, according to a physician recruiting firm.

This new data comes from Merritt Hawkins, which performs an annual review of physician recruiting incentives and benefits. This year’s study reviewed more than 3,000 doctor-recruiter interactions.

“COVID-19 essentially flipped the physician job market in a matter of 60 days,” said Merritt Hawkins executive vice president Travis Singleton in a news release.

What was once a buyer’s market for job-seeking physicians is now a seller’s market in which physicians are competing for job openings, the report says. During that 60-day period, Merritt Hawkins saw a 30% decline in engagements between its staff and employers looking to hire doctors. At the same time, Merritt Hawkins estimates that the number of physicians contacting the firm increased from 10% to 15%.

The costs of COVID-19

The 2019 Merritt Hawkins report indicated that healthcare would remain a critical U.S. economic driver, and that the “torrid pace of job creation” wasn’t expected to let up. Then COVID-19 came along, dealing the US healthcare system an enormous blow.

From March-June 2020, American hospitals lost more than $200 billion, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA). The pandemic drove up hospital costs, resulted in canceled or forgone services, created a need for additional PPE, and required additional staffing to keep pace with the virus, the AHA says. 

The Merritt Hawkins report covers physician-recruiter and employer-recruiter interactions between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, touching on only the beginning of the pandemic. The AHA data would suggest that the physician job market may have gotten even worse as the pandemic has been and continues to be a major disruptor. Next year’s Merritt Hawkins report will provide more insight.

COVID-19 repercussions, however, weren’t just confined to hospitals. They affected the entire healthcare industry. US Census Bureau data show that health care and social assistance revenues decreased by 3.7% between Q4 2019 and Q1 2020. 

Healthcare employees, including physicians, also took a hit, US Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate. Unemployment in healthcare went from 2.8% in March to 10.4% in April. The figure stood at 7.2% in June, the most recent month for which data are available.

“Even some physicians have lost their jobs, a trend Merritt Hawkins has never witnessed in our 33-year history,” the staffing firm writes.

Despite the downturn, the impact on the demand for physicians likely will not be permanent, Merritt Hawkins writes. The underlying physician shortage hasn’t gone away. 

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