Is there a doctor in the house? A shortage of physicians leads to higher demand, bigger perks

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Is there a doctor in the house? A shortage of physicians leads to higher demand, bigger perks

Dr. Aubrey Riefe could have gone anywhere to practice medicine.

As a doctor of osteopathy and a family medicine practitioner, Riefe had plenty of employment options after graduating from medical school and completing her residency last year in Milwaukee.

“I started talking to both Genesis (Health System) and UnityPoint back in February 2020, but that was when COVID hit, so the process got slower,” Riefe said. “I signed with UnityPoint in June 2020.

“I felt in demand,” she said.

Dr. Nader Ailabouni, also a family medicine practitioner, said he too, was in high demand. He was hired by Genesis Health Group in 2018. Ailabouni moved to the Quad-Cities from the Minneapolis area, although he could have gone anywhere.

“Within family medicine there always seem to be offers for jobs that are sent to me from all over the country,” Ailabouni said. “I have even gotten offers for jobs in family practice from New Zealand. That is pretty awesome. So objectively, it seems like there is a significant demand in family practice and primary care.”

Across the country, demand for physicians is increasing as fewer become available to meet the needs of a growing population.

According to a June report by the the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), by 2033, the physician shortage in the United States will have increased to between 54,000 to 139,000.

Population growth, an aging population and fewer people pursuing careers as physicians are contributing factors to the shortage. The demographic of those ages 65 or older is expected to grow by 45% over the next 12 years. Among this age group will be physicians currently working who are expected to retire as well.

Matt Behrens, regional vice president of clinic operations for UnityPoint Health, said “there definitely are shortages” of physicians.

“My guess is those shortages will increase across the country,” Behrens said. “There are more openings than there are physicians coming out of medical school. That’s the major reason why. It varies significantly by specialty, but most jobs have more openings than applicants. Our greatest needs are in internal medicine.”

Behrens said there also is demand in the fields of family practice, neurology, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), and orthopaedics.

“Muscatine is one of the areas that we have a hospital and a number of clinics. It’s very difficult to recruit specialists to small communities,” he said. “We definitely have a shortage here in pulmonologists and a lot of them are critical care physicians, too. Like the rest of the country, we have a shortage of psychiatrists.”

Behrens said UnityPoint employs about 100 physicians throughout its hospitals and clinics and about 130 advanced practitioners like physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners.

He said UnityPoint Health recruits physicians “from across the United States and we have a physician coming in from Japan in the near future.”

Michelle Spranger, a physician recruiter for Genesis Health System, agrees there is a shortage of physicians, especially in the areas of endocrinology, neurology, and outpatient behavioral health, which includes psychologists and psychiatrists.

“We have recruited providers to Genesis from the East Coast, West Coast, Canada, and Alaska, although we have had people fly in from United Arab Emirates to interview,” Spranger said.

“We have a family medicine residency (program) that does a great job exposing residents to what a career in the Quad-Cities would be like. We have had great success with retaining family medicine providers after graduation.”

Spranger said Genesis employs more than 325 full-time physicians and approximately 50 more part-time physicians.

Riefe said she ultimately chose UnityPoint Health because she liked the feel of the office and clinic setting where she would be working and she connected with the employees there.

“I technically work three and a half days a week so I can spend the rest of the time with my little boy. They were accommodating for that.”

Ailabouni said he interviewed with Genesis and UnityPoint and both offered him a job.

“Both were great places, but the intangible was that Genesis felt more like home; I did my residency there,” he said. “A lot of the names of providers were names and people I knew many years ago and it just felt like the right fit for me. They also gave me some autonomy and flexibility in my day-to-day clinic with great support from ancillary staff.”

Riefe and Ailabouni said family was the main reason they moved back to the Quad-Cities.

Originally from Davenport, Riefe graduated from Assumption High School. She attended Truman State University and A.T. Still University for her medical degree, both located in Kirksville, MO. She has been practicing medicine for nearly four years, including her three years in residency in Milwaukee.

Ailabouni grew up in Minnesota. He graduated from the University of St. Thomas and then Des Moines University for his medical degree. After his medical residency at Genesis Medical Center, he moved back to Minnesota, where he practiced medicine until 2018. Spending his residency in the Quad-Cities made the decision easier to move back to the area.

“My main motivation in moving was for family,” Ailabouni said. “My wife is originally from the area here and we decided to move closer to her family. Also we had small kids who were just about to start school and we moved here for the good school districts.”

Hospitals and clinics offer perks to lure doctors

Riefe said one of the reasons why she signed with UnityPoint Health was their flexibility in allowing her to work fewer hours per week so she could spend time with her young son.

“They were really willing to negotiate with me on those terms,” Riefe said. “I did get a sign-on bonus and some retention bonuses over the span of four years here and a decent salary just working three and a half days a week.”

UnityPoint also covered the cost of moving expenses for Riefe and her family to relocate from Milwaukee to the Quad Cities.

Ailabouni said Genesis “offered a good package. It was similar to other offers I had, but again I felt as though it was a better fit and had excellent room to grow a practice.”

Although moving from Minnesota to Iowa has been a challenge for Ailabouni in terms of adjusting to a different health system and medical practice, he said it’s been worth it.

“I feel like I am making a difference, partly because of some of difficulties patient have had finding new providers,” he said. “I see a lot of new patients who tell me that their doctor of 10 or 20 years has retired. Being able to put a fresh set of eyes on their health care and try to improve things with subtle changes or lifestyle recommendations really makes me feel like I am making a difference in their lives. Also, this last year has been very difficult with this pandemic.

“This has been a new challenge and particularly rewarding with helping keep my patients healthy, informed and supported.”

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