Doctor Shortage Pushes Recruiters in New Directions

By Toni Vranjes

May 24, 2013

With the need for medical services expected to soar in coming years, the healthcare field offers huge opportunities for job seekers. Millions of people will gain access to healthcare as the Affordable Care Act takes full effect, and aging Baby Boomers will need much more medical care. This is increasing the demand for doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other types of providers.

Recruiters are facing many challenges as they try to fill these positions. In some cases, they’re pursuing “passive candidates” who aren’t searching for a job – but instead might be in the exam room with patients, listening to their heart or checking their tonsils. Or, the recruiters could be trying to fill a job in a rural area, which might be perceived as less appealing than one in a big city.

To deal with these challenges, recruiters are using every means at their disposal. While job boards and traditional in-person networking are still very important, social media also is playing an increasing role. To fill the void, recruiters sometimes place healthcare providers on a temporary basis, or they might work with foreign medical graduates.

Trends Driving the Demand

healthcare jobsAs 32 million Americans gain health coverage under Obamacare, the nation’s doctor shortage will only get worse, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

One major problem: the nation doesn’t have enough residency slots to meet the demand for new doctors, said Jeremy Goldberg, vice president of Maxim Staffing Solutions. To increase the supply of doctors, the AAMC and many other medical groups are urging Congress to preserve funding for graduate medical education.

While the shortage of primary-care doctors has received a lot of attention, there is also strong need for doctors in a number of subspecialties. In recent years, neurology and psychiatry have vaulted to the top of the list, said Steve Look, regional vice president of the Medicus Firm.

By 2025, the AAMC projects that the nation will face a shortage of 130,000 doctors. Half of those will be in primary care, while the other half will be specialists.

The doctor shortage is especially severe in small rural areas, Look said. His firm places physicians and mid-level providers – and many clients are located in small to mid-size communities.

“Rural areas are hard hit and struggle to recruit physicians, because most gravitate to metro and suburban areas,” Look said.

To help fill the gap in primary care left by the doctor shortage, employers have been turning to “mid-level providers,” such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners. However, a battle is underway in the states over the types of services that PAs and NPs can provide.

While the nation grapples with the physician shortage, older Americans increasingly need medical services. Baby Boomers are living longer than earlier generations, but they have higher rates of chronic health conditions, according to a new study. The aging population is boosting the need for providers in many settings, including home healthcare and nursing homes, said Candy Bradford, vice president of operations at Odell Medical Search.

Meanwhile, Obamacare’s focus on wellness and prevention is fueling demand for a number of jobs, like occupational therapists and physical therapists, Goldberg said. His firm fills a wide variety of healthcare job openings, including therapists, physicians and mid-level providers.

The federal healthcare law is also driving another development: the trend toward physician employment by hospitals. The trend makes sense for both doctors and hospitals, Look said. Many doctors perceive the vast requirements of the federal healthcare law to be burdensome, which is driving them away from independent private practices, he said. Meanwhile, Obamacare is pushing hospital to create accountable care organizations, which provide incentives for quality, cost-effective medical care.

“Both the physician side and the hospital side are gravitating toward the employed model,” Look said. “We’re seeing more of that.”

Despite all the opportunities, the industry is also facing challenges – including persistent worries over Medicare reimbursement rates for healthcare providers, and resulting layoffs at many hospitals. However, mass layoffs at hospitals tend to affect administrative workers more than clinical staff, according to American Medical News.

Bright Job Prospects

The clinical healthcare jobs in high demand include:

  • physicians and surgeons
  • mid-level providers
  • registered nurses
  • physical therapists and occupational therapists

According to a report released by HealtheCareers last month, about 44 percent of its job openings in the first quarter were for physicians and surgeons. Also, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of physicians and surgeons will increase by 24 percent from 2010 to 2020 – with job prospects especially promising in rural and low-income areas.

The HealtheCareers report showed a 15 percent increase in year-over-year demand for nurse practitioners – registered nurses who have received additional education and training. Meanwhile, demand for physician assistants rose 8 percent over the same period, the report found.

In addition, the BLS sees many job opportunities for physician assistants. The agency expects that employment in this area will jump 30 percent from 2010 to 2020.

During that same period, overall employment of registered nurses will increase 26 percent, according to the agency’s projections. An especially valuable degree for RNs is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which can significantly advance their career, recruiters say.

Meanwhile, the BLS sees a bright future for both physical therapists and occupational therapists. From 2010 to 2020, employment will rise 39 percent for physical therapists, and it will increase 33 percent for occupational therapists, the agency projects.

Recruiting Strategies

The need is great — and recruiters say there aren’t enough qualified candidates to fill all of the job openings. So they use a wide variety of tools to get the word out, including job boards, networking events, and social media.

Bradford said that Odell Medical primarily focuses on passive candidates. The firm places mid-level providers, many types of nurses, and directors of various departments.

“We’re looking for people who are happy and employed,” she said.

Referrals are very helpful for identifying candidates, according to Bradford. She noted that candidates can be difficult to reach, because they might be, say, in an operating room with patients, instead of in an office. Networking is essential to get their attention, she added.

“It’s all about who you know and your connections and contacts,” she said.

The competition for active job candidates is also fierce, as employers bombard them with phone calls and e-mails, Look said. His firm searches for candidates in a wide range of ways, including general and niche job boards. Another tool: sending personalized letters to specific doctors who meet the job requirements.

Look also emphasized the importance of residency programs, noting that the firm reaches out to all graduating residents and also speaks with program directors. Residents account for a large percentage of the firm’s annual placement volume, he added.

Another key issue: finding ways to recruit for jobs in small rural communities. Many programs are available that offer incentives, such as forgiveness of student-loan debt, Look said.

As part of its strategy, Maxim has spread out across the country. Maxim Healthcare Services has recruiters within 350 offices nationwide that find talent for all of its divisions, including Maxim Staffing Solutions. The recruiters have a variety of ways to meet and interview potential candidates. For instance, they attend trade shows, industry meetings, and medical conferences, and they visit local colleges and universities.

“We’re across the country, rolling up our sleeves and entrenching ourselves in local communities,” Goldberg said.

For all of the recruiting firms, social media plays an important role in attracting top talent.

Social networking enables recruiters to deliver information in a timely and effective way, Goldberg said. They can share relevant industry news and trends, potential job opportunities, and other information. Maxim connects with active and passive job candidates, as well as clients, on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

At the Medicus Firm, recruiters are seeing an increase in the use of LinkedIn by physicians in networking for job opportunities, Look noted.

In addition, there are other potential sources of talent. About 25 percent of physicians in the United States are graduates of foreign medical schools, Look noted. The Medicus Firm works with foreign medical graduates to see if the firm can match them with employers.

Meanwhile, the doctor shortage is also spurring the use of temporary (locum tenens) healthcare professionals. At Maxim, the firm’s locum-tenens group has grown about 240 percent over the last four years, and it’s one of the most in-demand teams, Goldberg said.

Although the need is great, applicants must pass many hurdles to land the job. One of those is extensive pre-employment screening. Goldberg said this process includes criminal background reports, verification of employment history and education, license verification, Office of Inspector General search, National Practitioner database report, and many other procedures. In addition, Maxim performs a variety of client-specific screenings, such as physicals, drug testing, and knowledge and skills testing.

Bradford encourages people to consider healthcare very seriously as a career — and not to be intimidated by the vast educational requirements. She describes healthcare as “a fabulous field.”

“It can be very rewarding,” Bradford said. “It’s definitely going to be something that’s around forever.”

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