Older physicians may have fewer job options than younger colleagues

A new survey finds that employment opportunities decline once a physician is out of residency at least 16 years.

By — Posted Dec. 26, 2011

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Physicians with a significant amount of experience have fewer offers to choose from than their younger counterparts when it comes to employment opportunities with hospitals or medical groups, according to a search firm.

The Medicus Firm's online survey of 1,072 physicians found that physicians more than 16 years out of residency applied for an average of eight positions over the previous two years, and received an average of 2.1 offers. Meanwhile, physicians with fewer than 15 years out of residency applied for an average of 8.3 positions, and had on average 7.9 offers.

A total of 28.6% of physicians with more than 16 years out of residency reported receiving no responses to job applications made directly to a hospital or practice, but this was true for only 8.2% of physicians just out of training. For senior physicians applying through a search firm, 8.7% received no responses, while the total was 6.7% for younger physicians, according to the Medicus Firm, which has offices in Dallas and Atlanta.

The Medicus survey, carried out in October and released Dec. 6, did not explain why there was such a marked change in job opportunities at the 16-year mark. But analysts said there could be a hesitancy on some employers' part to hire senior physicians -- and even if they are offered a job, the senior physicians themselves may be casting a particularly discriminating eye on the available opportunities.

Jim Stone, the Medicus Firm's president, said some employers might be of a long-common mindset that physicians don't move around much for work, so they cast a suspicious eye when an experienced physician comes looking.

"The way things used to be was that the doctor would come out of training and they would stay for the duration. Physicians were a lot less mobile. A lot of baby boomer physicians grew up with that mentality," Stone said. "There's some sort of assumption that they must be a bad physician if they are looking."

In addition to possible stigma, those who work in recruiting say older doctors can have fewer choices of jobs because some institutions may prefer younger physicians due to a perception that that they will stay longer. There may be concerns about how older physicians, particularly those who have spent most of their careers in solo or small practice, would fit in with a large practice or hospital-based culture.

"The culture in an employed position can be so different," said Jeff Wasserman, vice president of strategy and executive leadership services with Culbert Healthcare Solutions in Woburn, Mass. The company provides professional services, including physician recruiting, to health institutions.

Search firm executives said some senior physicians, particularly those coming out of retirement, are at a disadvantage if they haven't kept their credentials, such as board certification, current.

But while there may be a modicum of skittishness on the part of institutions to hire older physicians, there could be a reluctance on the part of some senior physician to take some of the jobs being offered.

"Most older physicians are not looking to take on more emergency department call, take more night call, work longer hours or do some of the more high-risk procedures," said Bohn Allen, MD, a member of the governing council of the American Medical Association's Senior Physicians Group. He retired from private practice in 2003 but returned to medicine in 2010 to become the director of the outpatient surgery clinic at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas.

Experts say there are jobs for physicians of any age, and these differences found in the Medicus Firm survey do not necessarily reflect age-related employment discrimination.

"Any doctor who wants to practice can find a job and start work within a short period of time. The question is whether the practice meets their expectations," Stone said.

When job-hunting, experts advise that physicians be upfront about why they are looking for a new position.

"Physicians really need to think through where they want to be and the reasons for moving, and be clear in the interview," Wasserman said.

But whatever the reasons leading to older physicians having fewer employment choices, experts say the work issues for doctors at a later stage in their careers must be addressed, because a growing number are coming out of or delaying retirement due to the impact of the recent economic downturn. In addition, the current physician shortage is expected to worsen as the baby boomers age and millions more gain insurance under health system reform.

"It's incumbent on everybody involved in the practice of medicine to keep open minds and make sure that we all understand -- with the huge shortage of physicians that we obviously have -- that we cannot just close doors to groups of people who can do a good job," said Tony Stajduhar, president of the physician staffing agency Jackson & Coker.

A Jackson & Coker survey released Aug. 2 found that 52% of the 522 doctors responding had altered retirement plans since the 2007-09 recession. Approximately 70% of those changing plans said they would remain in practice longer because personal savings had been depleted or not increased as quickly as expected.

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The effect of age on physician job-hunting

Analysis of an October physician survey by a physician placement company suggests that older doctors have fewer employment options than younger physicians. Results of the survey:

All physicians

9.3: Average number of jobs applied for in the previous two years
4.9: Average number of offers

Physicians more than 16 years out of training

8.0: Average number of jobs applied for in the previous two years
2.1: Average number of offers
28.6%: Percentage of candidates applying directly to hospitals and medical practices who received no response
16.3%: Percentage of candidates applying directly to hospitals and medical practices who had a 100% response rate
51.0%: Percentage who said the average response time was less than a week

Physicians zero to 15 years out of training

8.3: Average number of jobs applied for in the previous two years
7.9: Average number of offers
8.2%: Percentage of candidates applying directly to hospitals and medical practices who received no response
26.2%: Percentage of candidates applying directly to hospitals and medical practices who had a 100% response rate
65.0%: Percentage who said the average response time was less than a week

Source: The Medicus Firm, 2011 Physician Candidate Recruiting Survey, Dec. 6

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External links

Senior Physicians Group, American Medical Association (link)

Jackson & Coker Retirement Survey, Aug. 2, 2011 (link)

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