The ability of a U.S. physician to land a job has been easy until a surge of U.S. cases of the coronavirus strain Covid-19 “flipped” the job market and reduced the demand for doctors during the pandemic, a new report shows.
As hospitals curtailed elective procedures to make way for Covid-19 patients and doctor offices, clinics and other health facilities closed across the country due to safety and shelter-at-home orders, physicians lost their jobs or had their hours curtailed dramatically, physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins said in their annual 2020 review of physician and advanced practitioner recruiting incentives.
Since March 31, for example, Merritt Hawkins said its “search engagements” on behalf of clients like hospitals that hire physicians dropped more than 30% when they were on the upswing in the 12-month prior period from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.
“Today, we are seeing a growing number (of physicians) who are unemployed with a limited number of roles available,” said Travis Singleton, executive vice president with Merritt Hawkins/AMN Healthcare in a statement accompanying the company’s report. “This is unprecedented. COVID-19 essentially flipped the physician job market in a matter of 60 days.”
Still, Merritt Hawkins executives see the job market improving as do teaching hospitals and medical schools that continue to churn out record numbers of future physicians.
The Association of American Medical Colleges last month issued a new report forecasting a U.S. shortage of doctors will rise to between 54,000 and 139,000 by 2033 as the U.S. population grows and ages. The AAMC report predicted a coming shortfall “in both primary and specialty care.”
As the U.S. comes out of the pandemic, Merritt Hawkins predicts demand for physicians will surge again, particularly in certain specialties. “Demand for physicians on the front lines of virus care, including emergency medicine physicians, pulmonologists/critical care physicians, and infectious disease specialists is projected to increase as a result of Covid-19,” the company said in its report.
Primary care physicians as well as nurse practitioners and physician assistants remain in high demand as health insurance companies and medical science work to push patients to get healthcare and their medications upfront before they get sick and lead to more expensive care down the road.
While the demand for nurse practitioners, physician assistants and primary care doctors is strong, “a growing volume of physician recruiting activity is shifting toward medical specialties,” the Merritt Hawkins report said. The firms said 78% of its physician search engagements in the 12 months prior to March 31 “were for medical specialists, up from 67% five years ago, while 22% were for primary care.”