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Bigger incentives expected for job-hunting physicians

Doctor demand continues to push hospitals and group practices to be more competitive as they vie for new hires.

By Sue Ter Maat — Posted Jan. 7, 2013

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National recruiters say that as good as 2012 was for physicians seeking employment in hospitals or groups, 2013 will be even better.

Due to impending physician retirements, decreases in the hours doctors work and increased demand for physicians, job opportunities for employed physicians won’t just be more plentiful but also will offer more variety. That will mean more incentives for doctors who are on job hunts, as employers try to entice physicians who will have more interesting options, recruiters said.

“There will be a greater demand for physicians” in 2013, said Jennifer Metivier, executive director of the Assn. of Staff Physician Recruiters. “The trend is for larger signing bonuses and paying off student loans. More employers are becoming attractive to become more competitive.”

Recruiters expect hospitals and groups to have a harder time filling positions. In 2012, about 51% of employment searches were filled, but in 2011, it was about 60%, according to the 2012 ASPR In-House Physician Recruitment Benchmarking Report.

“We are definitely getting busier,” said Andrea Santiago, director of communications and media relations at The Medicus Firm, a physician recruiting agency with offices in Atlanta and Dallas. “It seems like a tighter market all the time. That is what we are predicting [for 2013] for so many reasons.”

Another physician recruiting firm, Merritt Hawkins of Irving, Texas, expects more of its 2013 searches to be for employed positions. Sixty-three percent of searches between April 2011 and March 2012 were on behalf of hospitals, which was up from 56% a year before, according to a Merritt Hawkins study.

A major reason for increased doctor demand is that physicians are putting in fewer hours than they have in past years, recruiters said. Since 2008, doctors are working about 6% fewer hours and are seeing nearly 17% fewer patients per day, according to a report by The Physicians Foundation, a research and advocacy group founded with settlement money from physician class-action lawsuits against health insurers over payment issues.

“Where we hired one doctor for one job before, it’s two doctors now,” said Phil Miller, a spokesman for Merritt Hawkins. “That is a big part of the equation. Demand is up, but the number of doctors is down.”

Additionally, recruiters said physicians may decide to retire in 2013 as the economy recovers and before major tenets of the Affordable Care Act kick in. Between 80,000 and 100,000 doctors may retire by 2018, with many having put off leaving medicine during the 2007-09 recession and its aftermath, according to The Physicians Foundation.

“For the last several years, doctors have postponed retirement and now the market may turn better and there might be a mass exodus that would compound” the shortage of doctors, Metivier said.

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