Competition fierce for new physicians entering practice

November 11, 2019

Practices will need to step up their recruitment game to capture the attention of this year’s new physicians, says a new survey of final-year medical residents.

Physician practices, especially independent ones, will have to step up their recruitment strategies if they hope to win the attentions of the latest classes of physician residents, notes a new national survey of final-year interns.

Physicians in their last year of residency are literally inundated with communications from recruiters, who approach them by phone, email, text, and social media, notes the 2019 Final-Year Medical Resident Survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins, a Dallas-based staffing consulting firm. Those entering their first practice also have higher expectations of their starting salaries and demand healthier work/life balance than their predecessors. Meanwhile, hospital systems seeking the brightest and best new physicians need to be creative and aggressive in order to compete in the crowded recruitment environment.

“The demand for doctors has never been greater, and we’re facing shortages nationwide,” says Kurt Mosley, vice president of strategic alliances at Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare company. “Meanwhile the demand for specialists continues to skyrocket.”

The survey, which includes nearly 400 residents across multiple states and specialties, asks medical residents about their career expectations, preferences and priorities. The insights gathered in the report can help medical practices align their efforts with the current trends when recruiting new physicians, negotiating employment contracts and building workplace strategies to improve retention.

Who’s The Boss? An overwhelming 45% of residents say they’d prefer to work for a hospital employer than any other type of employment arrangement. Only 2% craved a solo practice. Urgent care clinics, two-person practices and HMOs also ranked low on the employer preference list.

                  Action: If you’re a hospital employer, you’ll have good leverage, especially if you recruit early (many residents begin considering offers a full year before their residency ends). If you’re a smaller or independent practice, try offering what other practices can’t: flexibility, family-friendly work shifts, programs to assist with educational debt, and other creative perks.

Location Matters:  Location is the No. 1 consideration in job-seeking, the survey shows. The majority (65%) of residents favor larger cities of 250,001 to 1 million people, while only 7% desire the small-town life in cities with populations of 50,000 or less.

                  Action: Focus on your regional strengths, including quality of life, transportation, housing, cost of living, quality of schools, and the sense of community.

Show Me The Money: Over the past eight years, income expectations have continued to rise. About one-third of those surveyed expect to earn $176,000-250,000 in their first year of practice. However, a whopping 21% of respondents expect to make $326,000 or more, a salary level unimagined just seven years ago, the survey notes.

                Action: Hospital-owned practices will have to get over sticker-shock and put their money on the table to compete for the top talent. Smaller or less-monied practices often develop creative packages that focus on quality of practice, work/life balance and attractive off-time in exchange for a lower salary.

Cut Through the Noise: The electronic age has both helped and hurt physician recruitment. While mass electronic advertising and repeated emailings are convenient, they’re not always the best way to reach out. Almost half of the final-year residents surveyed say they’ve been contacted by recruiters more than 100 times, including by email, text, and social media.

                  Action: Research the candidate’s background well and personalize all communication specifically to that person, Mosley says. Consider candidates who were born, raised or schooled in your state and use that connection in your communications. Tailor your outreach to the media forms the candidate uses the most, including social media and texting.

Invest in Retention: Above all, practices need to nurture their new hires and provide the tools needed succeed. This year’s survey reveals a shocking statistic: Almost 20% of respondents say if they had to do it all over again, they’d skip med school and choose another profession. While health reform, malpractice and the multi-payer environment are perennial worries, almost one-quarter of residents fear they have insufficient practice management skills. “A lot of physicians say, ‘we’re ready for the practice of medicine, but we don’t want anything to do with the business of medicine,’” Mosley says.

                  Action: Make your employment offer stand out among the crowd by offering access to tools and labor to ease the burden of practice management, including electronic medical records, onsite software training, office support staff, transcription services and/or medical scribes.

Keeping it Rural                                                                                                                                                                                              

How can a small or rural practice compete with the 500-pound gorilla health system nearby for quality talent? Celebrate what makes your practice unique and share the specific quality-of-life story of your area, while offering physicians the things that make their practice life easier.

“Smaller groups can offer things the larger groups can’t,” Mosley says. “Rural areas are great opportunities to see larger varieties of patients and to do important community initiatives and mission work.”

Flex Scheduling – Smaller practices can be nimble when it comes to how and when physicians work.. Clever approaches include split shifts, shared time banking, family-friendly scheduling and part-time options.

Creative benefits – What constitutes value varies widely by region or city. Innovative benefits such as mortgage discounts, time off for community or mission work, payoffs of med school in exchange for a work contract, and continuing education opportunities can erase pain points and bring your offer to the top of a candidate’s pile.

Onsite Assistants– Access to medical scribes or medical assistants can be a surprising deal-maker for physicians who are increasingly frustrated by medical documentation, payer paperwork and other business aspects of practice management.

Local Character – When you talk up your town, focus on what physicians care about, especially community outreach and quality of practice. Candidates will check out the websites of your practice and the local Chamber of Commerce, so be prepared to get more specific about the quality of life your community offers. “Your practice website should tell the story of your community,” Mosley says. “Give candidates ways to learn more about your schools, churches, cost of living and quality of life. Above all, be prepared to discuss what you can offer to improve the way they practice medicine on a daily basis.”

Pamela Tabar is a healthcare writer in Medina, Ohio.