Recruiting Emergency Physicians in a Buyer’s Market: Shortage Creates New Challenges for EM Groups

Conventional wisdom has it that there is a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S. That is true from the patient perspective, and the millions of new people signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act will only add to that shortage. But from a hospital or physician group’s perspective, there is a whole different kind of shortage: emergency and urgent care physicians. 

According to an analysis from Practicelink, a career resource and online job board for physicians, there were 1.58 job openings for urgent care physicians for every candidate in the third quarter of 2013, making it the most in-demand physician specialty. Emergency medicine physicians ranked number four, with 1.31 openings for each candidate.

Those numbers may indicate a fracturing, so to speak, of the job market for emergency care. One year ago, Practicelink ranked emergency medicine number one on its list of most in-demand specialties, with 2.73 job openings for each candidate (and earlier this year the number reached as high as 3.03). The move from more emergency medicine openings to more urgent care openings over the past year tracks with the national trend toward more reliance on urgent care centers.

Still, “It’s a buyer’s market for emergency medicine physicians, and emergency medicine recruiters have a shallower pool to choose from,” remarked Laura Hammond, Director of Communications for Practicelink.

The crunch has birthed a small industry of companies hawking new tools to help recruit physicians, the newest wave being companies that cull social media data for clues about who may be viable candidates for recruiters to approach. Unfortunately in the case of specific, hard-to-recruit specialties like emergency medicine, the tools are often notable more for the ways in which they fall short than the ways in which they help recruiters succeed.

The high demand for emergency medicine physicians has made recruiting for emergency medicine physician groups an increasingly competitive proposition, while physicians are reporting job interviews that unfold like bribery stings, with physician groups promising them anything and everything if it gets them to come work there.

The groups that will succeed in this environment must both distinguish themselves through tactics beyond just offering more money, but even more importantly they must think long and hard about what types of physicians they truly want at their company – and tailor their recruiting messages accordingly.

The preferences of young adults across every industry have undergone rapid change in recent years, with more desire for urban environments, flexibility, and a company’s culture and values than in the past. According to one recently hired emergency physician, who claims to have been “absolutely dead set” on working in another location, MEP won him over by communicating about more than just money and the facilities:

“The thing that struck me was they had tenets, and morals, and things that they stood for,” said Jonathan Klingler, who currently works at St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown, MD. “The other interviews were, how can we you to come here. We’ll give you whatever you want. MEP was, this is what we stand for, this is what we’re all about. And if this is something you can fit in, than great. If not, don’t come here.”

Ultimately, the large number of job openings in emergency medicine means that emergency medicine groups can’t claim to be the only game in town – physicians at all levels of training and experience have options. At the same time, we are seeing ample evidence that emergency medicine physicians just out of residency are looking for more than just the highest paycheck or a particular location (although location remains, as always, the overwhelming determining factor). They are looking for a strong culture, a desire for ownership and leadership opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of trust in the people they’ll be working with.