Hiring in physician offices is booming

Practices added more than 16,000 jobs in the first quarter, according to government figures.

By — Posted April 14, 2011

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In the first quarter of 2011, physician practices added jobs at a rate more than three times higher than in the first quarter of the previous year. And demand to hire physicians appears to remain strong.

In an April 1 report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said physician offices added 16,500 jobs from January to March, including 7,600 in March, 5,500 in February and 3,400 in January. In the first quarter of 2010, offices added only 4,900 jobs over the three months (link).

The bureau did not break down what positions were added or the reasons for the increase. But analysts said that with the possibility of Medicare pay cuts delayed until Jan. 1, 2012, physicians feel more positive about adding staff than they did in 2010. Last year, Congress five times overrode scheduled pay cuts mandated by Medicare's sustainable growth rate formula.

Analysts have said that more insured people being added under health system reform is expected to drive up traffic at practices, necessitating more staff.

Hospitals are hiring at much faster rates than in the first quarter of 2010, when they added only 3,700 jobs, according to the BLS. From January to March, hospitals added 19,600 jobs, including 10,200 in March alone, the bureau reported.

Health Workforce Solutions, a San Francisco-based company that produces reports on hiring demand in health care, said its composite of job demand in 30 markets went up 4% in the first quarter of 2011, compared with a 3% drop in the fourth quarter of 2010 and a 13% decline in the third quarter.

The company said 18 of the 30 markets showed "accelerated" expansion, compared with 14 in the fourth quarter of 2010. Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., and Miami grew the fastest, while Cleveland, Las Vegas and San Diego lagged the most, according to the company.

"After some sluggishness that mirrored the broader economy, we seem to finally be seeing some meaningful positive movement in the health care labor markets," said David Cherner, MPH, managing partner of Health Workforce Solutions, in a statement. "While not out of the woods yet, we are bullish on the outlook for the rest of the year."

As evidence, the number of online job ads increased, according to the Conference Board's Help Wanted OnLine monthly report released March 30 (link).

The number of advertised vacancies in March for health care practitioners and technical, a category that includes physicians, increased 3,700 to 603,800 out of overall advertised vacancy growth of 208,800 to 4,454,500, according to the Conference Board. Advertising for the health care category has been strong even through the recession.

People who work in physician staffing said they continue to see strong demand for MDs and DOs. For instance, CompHealth in Salt Lake City reported a 14% increase in physician demand in March compared with February. In addition, demand for physicians was 5.7% higher in the first quarter of 2011 than in 2010.

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