Vacancy Rates for Physicians, Nurses on the Rise

Vacancy rates for both nurses and physicians are on the rise, and hospital executives have reported that access to care is compromised in their area because of physician shortages.

Vacancy rates for both nurses and physicians are on the rise, and the vast majority of hospital executives believe there is a shortage of these providers nationwide, according to a new survey.

The AMN Healthcare survey found that 78% of hospital executives believe there is a physician shortage, while 66% say there is a nurse shortage. They’re probably right — the vacancy rate at hospitals is currently 18% for physicians and 17% for nurses.

In AMN’s 2013 Clinical Workforce Survey, more than 70% of executives rated the staffing of physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants as a high priority. However, four years ago just 24% said the same. Half of executives expect the number of physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at their facility’s to increase in the next six months, while 36% expect the number of nurses to increase in that time.

"Change in health care is a continuous evolution, but the one constant is people," AMN President and Chief Executive Officer Susan Salka said in a statement. "No matter what models of care are in place, it takes physicians, nurses and other clinicians to provide quality patient care, and the fact is we simply do not have enough of them."

In the 2009 survey, hospital executives reported just an 11% vacancy rate for physicians, compared to this year’s 18%. The increase in vacancy for nurses was even larger over the four year period from 5% in 2009 to 17% this year.

Salka attributed the large increase in vacancy rates to the improving economy, an aging workforce, growing demand for services and, of course, health care reform.

"We are expanding access to health care and restructuring the delivery system to improve quality and reduce costs at the precise moment when a wave of physicians and nurses is set to retire," Salka said. "It will take new, collaborative and innovative staffing models to ensure our workforce is aligned with the goals we all want to reach."

Two-thirds of hospital executives believe their facilities will have an increased need for physicians because of the Affordable Care Act and the influx of newly insured patients. Unfortunately, physicians were rated as the most difficult to recruit.

Already, 36% of respondents said that access to care has been compromised in their areas because of these physician shortages. However, less than 30% of executives at teaching hospitals plan to add new primary care residency positions, largely because of insufficient funds, according to the survey results.

Few executives reported that it was easy to recruit clinical professionals to their facilities, while 70% said it was difficult to recruit physicians and 40% said it was difficult to recruit nurses.