Physician Recruitment: A Look at Job Trends

Physician's Money DigestOctober31 2004
Volume 11
Issue 20

Review of Physician Recruitment


According to the 11th annual , orthopedic surgeons have surpassed radiologists as the most highly recruited physicians nationwide. The survey, conducted by the national physician search and consulting firm Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, is based on the 2594 physician search assignments the firm conducted in 47 states between April 2003 and March 2004. The survey provides insight into which types of physicians were most highly recruited by the firm's hospital and medical group clients, as well as the average income offers.

Trend Reversal

For 3 consecutive years dating back to 2000, Merritt has conducted more recruiting searches for radiologists than for any other type of physician specialty. An aging population that utilizes xrays and other imaging modalities at 3 times the rate of the younger population was a key factor driving the demand for radiologists. That demand peaked early in 2003, when hospitals and medical groups, having filled one of their medical staff needs, began taking steps to address other areas.

Demand has been strong in recent years for orthopedic surgeons, driven by an active elderly population and the maturing baby boomers who wish to maintain a mobile lifestyle. More recently, many smaller communities have begun building centers for orthopedic surgery as a means of slowing outward migration and benefiting from the relatively high reimbursement attached to this specialty.

The survey also uncovered a trend reversal. Since 1997, there has been a decreasing demand for primary care physicians, particularly family practitioners and pediatricians. However, for the first time in 7 years, the survey found a significant increase in the demand for family practitioners—up 35% over the previous year. Overall, family practice ranked fourth behind orthopedic surgery, radiology, and cardiology as the most recruited specialty. The survey found that demand for doctors in most surgical specialties is increasing across the board.

Salary Leap

While orthopedic surgery broke radiology's 3-year run as the most recruited specialty, the latter retained the top spot for average income offered among all specialties. At an average annual income of $336,000, up 4.5% from last year, radiology edged orthopedic surgery by just $6000. Orthopedic surgery experienced a 6% average salary increase over last year.

Physician salaries weren't the only dollar figures to rise, according to the survey. Signing bonuses were offered to physicians in 50% of all recruiting searches conducted in 2003 and 2004, compared with 36% the previous period. The average dollar amount for bonuses also increased, inching up slightly from $15,000 to $15,500.

Income Guarantees

Income guarantees also experienced a trend reversal, being offered in 41% of current recruiting searches compared with 23% just 4 years ago. According to Merritt, income guarantees typically are offered to physicians in private practice, and the increase in their use indicates a steady movement away from the physician employment model. The firm expects income guarantees to be used even more often in the future.

Doctors continue to receive a relocation allowance, with 99% of all searches offering some level of reimbursement. The average amount of relocation allowance increased from $9000 in 2003 to $9250 in 2004. Employment benefits are also generous. More than 90% of recruited positions cover the doctor's health and malpractice insurance, and more than 70% help fund retirement plans and disability insurance.

Hiring Areas

For the first time, the 2004 survey includes average income offers for four distinct geographic regions: the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West. The firm indicates that in general, physician recruitment today is a national endeavor, meaning that financial incentives must be competitive on a national rather than a regional basis to attract candidates. Therefore, average income offers do not vary greatly from region to region.

However, the survey found that average compensation offers made in the Southeast and Midwest were slightly higher than those made in the Northeast and West. The firm points out that this pattern is consistent with physician earnings, which are usually higher in those two regions of the country.

Importance of Groups

Group practices remain the dominant medical setting of physician recruitment searches, accounting for 42% of all searches, up from 39% a year ago. Partnerships (22%), solo practices (20%), and hospitals (11%) were the next most popular medical settings.


For a free copy of the survey, contact Merritt, Hawkins & Associates (800-876-0500;

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