At Tiva Healthcare, a company that specializes in locum tenens staffing for healthcare facilities, recruiters are constantly on the lookout for new primary care physicians willing to work as internists, pediatricians, and family practitioners. They are not alone. A new survey just released by Merritt Hawkins shows that recruiters from coast-to-coast are bombarding primary care residents for one simple reason: demand is far outstripping supply.
Imagine being a resident contacted by recruiters as many as 100 times during your year of training. Imagine trying to sort out all those job offers in the hope of eventually finding the ‘perfect’ job you were told awaits you. How would you make sense of it all?
It turns out that being contacted 100 times or more during residency is not all that uncommon. The Merritt Hawkins study lays it all out:
- 55% of the 935 respondents had been contacted 100+ times during their training
- 96% had been contacted at least 10 times
- 86% had been contacted at least 26 times
- 76% had been contacted more than 51 times.
Wrapping it all up is one final statistic that college graduates in other career fields are envious of: 56% of the surveyed primary care residents received at least 100 job solicitations during their residencies. That is a lot of job offers.
Primary Care Especially Short
The Merritt Hawkins data may not be all that surprising when looked at in the larger context of the overall doctor shortage. Doctors of all kinds are too few in number. But what stands out about the data is the fact that primary care is especially short of qualified doctors.
Locum tenens physicians may be able to plug many of the staffing holes opening up at hospitals and clinics around the country, but even that solution is not enough to meet demand. Until the number of doctors coming out of residency equals the number of doctors needed by hospitals, clinics and staffing agencies, there are going to be holes to fill.
Three Contributing Factors
So what exactly is the problem, here? It’s not a single problem per se. Rather, a number of contributing factors have combined to create the perfect storm we now face. First and foremost, medical schools have simply not been turning out enough primary care graduates over the last 20 years. Instead, future doctors have been funneled into more lucrative specialties.
Second, pay for primary care doctors has not kept up with the rest of the physician field. Primary care doctors of all three sorts (internists, family medicine doctors, and pediatricians) are among the lowest paid doctors in the country. It is hard to convince doctors to go into primary care when they can earn twice as much in another specialty.
Third, we have done such a good job of encouraging people to seek out preventive care from their family medicine providers that they are doing just that. Every time Johnny gets a sniffle, it’s off to the doctor’s office he goes. We have created demand by encouraging people to visit their doctors for things their parents or grandparents would never have taken to the doctor. And increasing demand without increasing supply is a recipe for problems in any industry.
The solution here seems simple enough in principle: we have to increase the number of primary care doctors entering the medical field. But just because it is simple in principle does not mean it’s simple in practice. Practically speaking, there are a whole host of issues that have to be addressed in order to generate larger volumes of new doctors.