COVID-19 has flipped the physician job search to a seller's market, recruiters say

A doctor holds a stethescope to a piggy bank
While demand for doctors has waned, officials say they believe it is only temporary as the U.S. healthcare system was in the midst of a physician shortage before COVID hit, authors of a new report from Merritt Hawkins found. (Getty/AndreyPopov)

Job opportunities for doctors have dried up quite a bit in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least in the short term, according to an annual report from physician search firm Merritt Hawkins. 

In its 27th annual 2020 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives, Merritt Hawkins found demand for physician recruitment dropped by more than 30% since March 31. In the 12 months period prior to March 31, physician and advanced practitioner recruiting searches had been up.

“Over our 33-year history, most physicians had little difficulty finding a job opportunity, with multiple offers to choose from,” said Travis Singleton, an executive vice president with Merritt Hawkins, which is part of AMN Healthcare, in a statement. “Today, we are seeing a growing number who are unemployed with a limited number of roles available. This is unprecedented.  COVID-19 essentially flipped the physician job market in a matter of 60 days.”

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Among other key findings in the report: 

  • The number of physicians contacting Merritt Hawkins about job opportunities since March 31 has increased significantly. "As a result, for those hospitals, health systems, medical groups and other organizations that are seeking physicians or soon will be, this is a very favorable time to recruit," authors said in the report.

  • Family physicians were in greatest demand for the 14th consecutive year, topping the list of the 20 most requested recruitment engagements. However, the authors of the report said. However, the shift to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic may change compensation and practice patterns in primary care.

  • A growing volume of physician recruitment has shifted toward medical specialties, making up 78% of Merritt Hawkins' physician search engagements over the year ending March 31, up from 67% five years ago.

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While demand for doctors has waned, officials say they believe it is only temporary as the U.S. healthcare system was in the midst of a physician shortage before COVID hit. 

 “While the pandemic will change how healthcare is delivered, physicians will remain indispensable caregivers, and we anticipate a renewed demand for both their clinical services and their leadership in the post-pandemic world,” Singleton said.