In high demand, new doctors recruited like blue chip athletes

What do new doctors and blue chip athletes have in common?

Both are in high demand and are being heavily recruited, according to a Merritt Hawkins survey. Forty-five percent of new doctors received 100 or more job solicitations during their training, and two-thirds (66%) of new doctors said they received 51 or more job solicitations.

“Physicians coming out of training are being recruited like blue chip athletes,” said Travis Singleton, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins, a national physician search and consulting company, in an announcement (PDF). “There are simply not enough new doctors to go around.”

The email survey of 391 final-year residents and fellows in a wide range of specialties found most were swamped with job choices, according to the Merritt Hawkins’ 2019 report.

That’s not surprising given the fact that an Association of American Medical Colleges report released last month projected a shortage of approximately 122,000 physicians by 2032, including a shortage of 55,000 primary care physicians and approximately 66,000 too few specialists.

For physicians completing their training this graduation season, there were a couple of negatives. The majority (64%) said they were contacted too many times by recruiters. Only 7% said they were not contacted enough by recruiters.

And despite the positive job market that makes finding a job easy, almost one in five (19%) said they would not choose medicine as a career if they had to do it over.

“With high levels of physician burnout and continued uncertainty about the direction of the healthcare system, many doctors are under duress today,” Singleton said. “It is not surprising that some newly trained doctors regret their choice of a career.”

New doctors who expressed negativity about the future said they were already discouraged. “Pessimistic, discouraged, disillusioned, burned out,” wrote one medical resident.

“I’m anxious about the future of medicine. I see it straying further and further away from being patient-centered and being more of a business transaction,” wrote another.

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“I’m discouraged. I’ve worked my tail off for over seven years plus undergraduate school. I’ve accrued a large amount of student debt. And I’m unable to find the job that I want to do for adequate compensation. You go into becoming a doctor to help people. But the business aspect sure does play a major role in my job search. The odds are definitely stacked against us. And they will continue to be as long as our healthcare system remains broken,” wrote another medical resident.

The demand for new physicians is occurring in both primary care and in specialty areas, where candidates are receiving dozens of recruitment offers, according to the report. Some 69% of primary care final-year residents said they received 51 or more recruiting offers during their training, as did 69% of internal medicine subspecialists and 64% of surgical specialists.

Despite the common perception that the physician shortage is confined to primary care, the survey results indicate that's not the case, said Singleton.

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“We need more primary care physicians to implement emerging healthcare delivery models that are based on enhanced access, prevention, and quality,” Singleton said. “But we also need more specialists to care for America’s rapidly aging population.”

The supply of new physicians is not keeping up with demand due in part to the 1997 cap Congress imposed on federal spending used to train doctors, Singleton said.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • The preferences of new doctors do not bode well for rural medicine. Only 1% of those surveyed said they would prefer to practice in a small town of 10,000 or fewer people. That’s bad news for rural communities, which traditionally have had a difficult time attracting physicians. Most new doctors (65%) would prefer to work in communities of 250,000 or more. However, international medical graduates were more likely to prefer smaller communities than U.S. medical graduates. 
  • The great majority of new doctors would prefer to be employed rather than independent. Forty-three percent would prefer employment with a hospital, while only 2% would prefer a solo practice setting.

“The days of new doctors hanging out a shingle in an independent solo practice are over,” Singleton said. “Most new doctors prefer to be employed rather than deal with the financial uncertainty and time demands of private practice.”

  • In terms of medical debt, the majority of final-year medical residents (51%) said they owe $150,000 or more in student loans. International medical graduates owe considerably less than do U.S. medical school graduates. The majority of international graduates (58%) said they have no student debt, compared to only 22% of U.S. graduates. While close to half of U.S. graduates (48%) owe $200,000 or more in student loans, only 25% of international graduates owe that amount, reflecting the high cost of medical education in the U.S. relative to other countries.

Here's a look at how they broke down the numbers:

Merrick Hawkins inforgraphic doctors