Demand for physicians, and their starting salaries, have rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic, as doctors are the targets of intense recruiting activity, according to a new report.
Specialist physicians are in the strongest demand with rising in interest in hiring gastroenterologists, orthopedic surgeons, oncologists, pulmonologists, neurologists, and psychiatrists. Meanwhile, demand for primary care physicians such as family physicians and internists has declined, according to a new report from Merritt Hawkins, the physician search division of AMN Healthcare.
“Demand for physicians, and the salaries they are offered, have rebounded dramatically from the height of COVID-19,” said Tom Florence, president of physician permanent placement for AMN Healthcare in a statement “Virtually every hospital and large medical group in the country is looking to add physicians.”
The majority of the company’s search engagements (64%) over the prior 12 months were for medical specialists, while only 17% were for primary care physicians. The remaining 19% were for advanced practice professionals such as nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs), and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).
“The market has done a complete about-face,” Florence said. “Several years ago, primary care physicians were the priority for most hospitals and medical groups. While many still seek them, the emphasis has shifted to specialists.”
Two factors account for this shift, Florence said. One is an aging population that needs more specialists to care for ailing internal organs, musculoskeletal conditions, and neurological problems. The other is the growing use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide primary care, often in “convenient care” settings such as urgent care centers, retail clinics and through telemedicine.
Starting salaries on the rise
Starting salaries of 14 physician specialties tracked in the 2022 review were up year-over-year, while only three were down.
The average signing bonus for physicians was $31,000, up from $29,656 last year.
Orthopedic surgeons are offered the highest average starting salary among physicians and advanced practice professionals. Those specialists are offered an average of $565,000, exclusive of signing bonuses and other incentives, up from $546,000 the previous year.
Average starting salaries for most other specialties included in the report also were up from last year. Urologists are offered an average of $510,000 to start, up from $497,000 last year, gastroenterologists are offered $474,000, up from $453,000 last year, while radiologists are offered $455,000, up from $401,000 last year.
Here are the top 9 physician starting salaries after orthopedic surgeons:
Cardiology (Interventional): $527,000
Cardiology (non-invasive) $484,000
Oral Maxillofacial Surgery: $368,000
Demand for physicians was suppressed during the peak of the pandemic, as many hospitals curtailed elective procedures and many patients refrained from entering a medical facility. A large backlog of patients needing care subsequently developed. This, combined with an aging population and widespread chronic medical conditions, has caused a strong surge in physician demand, according to Florence.
Over one-third (34%) of the company’s search engagements in the previous year were conducted for academic medical centers (AMCs), up from 20% the prior year and up from 11% five years ago.
"The importance of AMCs rose during the pandemic, as they were key centers of specialty care for COVID-19 patients,” Florence said. “They are expanding their footprint both as tertiary care centers and as providers of community-based care.”
Nurse practitioners in demand
Nurse practitioners topped the list of Merritt Hawkins’ most requested search engagements for the second consecutive year, underscoring a shift from traditional physician office-based primary care delivery settings toward “convenient care” settings such as urgent care centers, retail clinics and telemedicine that are largely staffed by NPs and other advanced practitioners, according to the report.
The average signing bonus for NPs and PAs was $9,000, up from $7,233 last year.
About 19% of the firm's search engagements were for advanced practitioners, including NPs, physician assistants and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), up from 18% the previous year and 13% the year prior to that, indicating growing demand for non-physician providers.
Only 17% of Merritt Hawkins’ search engagements were for primary care physicians, down from 18% last year and 20% the year prior to that, a further indicator of the shift from office-based primary care to the convenient care model.
Demand for telemedicine physicians also is growing, the report found, particularly in radiology and psychiatry. About 18% of Merritt
Hawkins’ radiology search engagements were for teleradiologists, while 15% of its search engagements for psychiatrists were for telepsychiatrists.