In 2016, America Faces a Shortage of Primary Care Doctors

In the highly specialized industry of healthcare, some roles are particularly challenging to fill. In this case, we focus on the challenges associated with the current shortage in primary care physicians in America. To put it into perspective, a recent report published by the AAMC Center for Workforce projects that, by 2025, America may face a shortage of between 46,000-90,000 physicians. Another study found that the U.S could lose as many as 100,000 doctors by 2025, with one-third of those being primary care physicians. With the release of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the inevitable impact it will have on coordination of care, disease management and other factors, some believe the shortage will be even greater.

Why are primary care doctors so important? Essentially, they act as our first line of defense against illness and other ailments. They often provide the first contact we have with the healthcare system. Sometimes, if you’re in need of a simple medical procedure like a check-up, it doesn’t make sense to go to the emergency room. Primary care physicians, who often practice in private offices, community health centers, “diagnose common illnesses and spot minor health problems before they become serious ones.” In addition, they offer “preventative services such as flu shots, cancer screenings, and counseling on diet and smoking, and play an important role in helping to manage the care of patients with chronic health conditions.” In short, there is specifically a shortage in the doctors the average patient’s needs most.


What led to the shortage?

Geography: About a fifth of Americans live in rural areas, but barely a tenth of physicians practice there, according to the Atlantic. If you look at a map of medical schools in the United States, you’ll see that they’re heavily concentrated in the northeast. The clustering of medical schools has led to a disproportionate amount of doctors staying in the areas where they went to school, causing an imbalanced geographic dispersion of doctors. The hiring consequences that have resulted from this are proving be a major challenge for recruiters filling physician roles at rural hospitals or practices.

Within the industry, some organizations have undertaken initiatives to better incentivize doctors to work in rural areas, according to the Atlantic. The National Health Service Corps now offers scholarships to students who train as primary care doctors, so long as they agree to serve for a year in a designated shortage area. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act also created grants for programs that train doctors who are willing to work in rural areas. In Kansas, a state with five counties with no doctors at all, recently opened a medical school geared entirely toward rural medicine.


An Aging Population: The population of elderly americans is growing, and what that means for the healthcare industry is more patients living with chronic disease who need consistent care from their primary doctors. This factor is unique because it highlights the fact that the challenge isn’t necessarily that there aren’t enough people studying to become doctors. Instead, exponential population growth has led to an explosion in demand that might be difficult to accommodate for, given the rate at which medical schools are turning out new physicians. In the midst of this, the healthcare workforce is also aging, which means that mass amounts of healthcare professionals will retire in the coming years, further increasing the gap between supply and demand.


Addressing the Physician Shortage

Fortunately, hospitals, healthcare systems and HR departments can do a lot to address to the physician shortage without negatively impacting the bottom line with huge incentive packages. Below you’ll find a few strategies for dealing with the hiring challenges associated with the physician shortage.


Pay close attention to shortage cycles and anticipate fluctuations in demand

There hasn’t always been a shortage in primary care physicians, which means it won’t last forever. In a 2015 Healthcare Trends report published by Health eCareers, researchers found that over a fifth of healthcare employers surveyed cited the greatest need for physicians in family practice and internal medicine. However, the report also notes that this was not the case only a few years ago, when cardiologists and OB\GYNs were in the highest demand. The healthcare industry landscape is constantly changing, so recruiters and HR professionals have to do their best to prepare for the unknown.

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New Compensation Packages

Today’s physicians have diverse needs when it comes to finances, and solely relying on salary to attract new doctors isn’t always a best practice, according to a eHealth Careers article. According to the article, “some facilities guarantee a physician a certain salary for specific period of time but eventually you’ve got to move on to a production model that covers your costs.”

“Solely relying on salary to attract new doctors isn’t always a best practice” – eHealth

Rather than focus on salary alone, it’s wise to get creative and create new financial incentives outside of overall salary to better attract physicians. According to eHealth, one alternative is to offer debt relief plans for doctors, who likely have medical school loans to pay off. Incentives also don’t have to be financial in nature. Feeling happy, satisfied and rewarded at work goes far beyond financial motivations. To maximize productivity and morale at the same time, consider offering compensation packages that make sense for doctors financially but also provide an adequate work-balance.


Build a strong pipeline and nurture it consistently

The smartest companies and recruiters don’t wait until the last second when they have a need to hire to begin the potentially lengthy process of recruiting  new talent. It’s critical that you build and maintain a strong talent pipeline because it ensures that you have a database of (ideally) highly qualified individuals who are likely looking for work in your area of expertise. Having this database at your disposal at a moment’s notice allows you to secure candidates quickly when a vacancy arises, reduce time-to-fill, recruitment costs and business disruption.

It’s impossible to build a talent pipeline over night. Building a talent pipeline is a long term strategy involving proactive dialogue between recruiters, employers and high performers working for competitors, who might not be ready to join another organization outright, but could be convinced to do so over time.


Recruiting is a full time job

On its own, recruiting can be a full time job that is extremely time consuming. As a healthcare professional, it can become a challenge when the process starts to compete with other demands on your time. Striking a balance among your responsibilities might not leave much time left to fully immerse yourself in the recruiting process. This is why many organizations have started outsourcing their recruiting processes to recruiting organizations like Healthcare Recruiters International. With the help of an external organization who knows the process and industry inside-out, you can find and hire better physicians faster and, hopefully, overcoming the  hurdles associated with the looming physician shortage facing America today.

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