An annual review by Merritt Hawkins, one of the country’s largest recruiting firms for healthcare professionals, has provided new insight into just how much healthcare has changed over the last year, and for whom.
The review was based on a sample of 2,458 permanent physician and advanced practitioner search assignments conducted by the firm from April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021. Among the many changes: In a spot that has been held by physicians for the previous 27 years, nurse practitioners (NPs) have become the firm’s most requested search engagement, surpassing family medicine doctors for the first time in 14 years.
“NPs are coming into their own in a market that puts a premium on easy access to care and cost containment,” said Tom Florence, president of Merritt Hawkins, in a statement to the press.
Based on these data, Florence said that the rise in NP positions may be due to the expansion of urgent care centers that offer more “convenient” care. In the last year, NPs were also recruited more frequently by services that provide telehealth, he said.
In other changes, the number of sign-on bonuses that were offered in the last year decreased overall, from 72% in 2020, to 61% this year. Still, despite the effect that COVID-19 has had on the demand for physicians, average sign-on bonuses jumped from $27,893 to $29,656, according to the report.
However, in a year that has seen the highest demand for NPs and physician assistants (PAs) so far, the dollar amount of their average sign-on bonuses fell from $8,500 to $7,233 this year.
“Health facilities may have been less aggressive about offering signing bonuses in a market where candidates were relatively abundant,” the review stated.
The firm reported that the overall number of searches they conducted declined by 25% in the last year, as healthcare systems across the country have had to downsize or shut their doors due to revenue losses. Most of Merritt Hawkins’ search engagements were for hospitals (33%), medical groups (29%), and academic settings (20%). Solo practices and concierge services made up only 3% of search engagements.
The majority — 64% — of Merritt Hawkins’ search engagements were for specialists, including radiologists, psychiatrists, and gastroenterologists, among others. Requests for primary care physicians, on the other hand, have been steadily decreasing since 2019, showing a growing pattern of care that favors specialty physicians over primary care physicians.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on an overall decrease in demand for most physicians; as a result, the starting salaries for these positions have subsequently taken a hit. This was the case for nearly all specialties, with only a few exceptions: neurology, cardiology, and psychiatry. Starting salaries for NPs and PAs have increased by 12% ($125,000 to $140,000) and 14% ($112,000 to $128,000), respectively, year-over-year.
“Over time, physician shortages are likely to once again emerge, stimulating demand for physicians and advanced practitioners and exerting upward pressure on their starting salaries and other recruiting incentives,” the review concluded.