The coronavirus crisis has impacted healthcare delivery in ways that were never expected. For example, who would have thought that thousands of doctors would be let go in the midst of what the government was calling a pandemic? It makes no sense. And yet, here we are.
Two recent articles reflecting on the current state of physician jobs tell the whole story. One is a Merritt Hawkins report and the other is a more personal post written by a physician who found herself furloughed. Combined, the two articles suggest that coronavirus may forever change physician jobs in this country.
Lower Salaries, Fewer Jobs
Starting with the Merritt Hawkins study, the coronavirus crisis has had a very measurable impact on both job availability and physician salaries. According to the study, physicians have rarely had trouble finding work over the last three decades. Jobs have been plentiful. However, that changed with the onset of coronavirus.
Merritt Hawkins says physician demand has actually fallen by 30% since March 2020. Conversely, the number of physicians contacting the company in search of work has risen sharply. It is reasonable to assume other companies offering employment services have experienced the same thing.
The study also indicates salaries have been impacted, at least temporarily. This makes sense given the fact that physician practice revenue has fallen by 55%. Physicians are not earning as much if their revenues are generally declining – whether employed by a group practice or hospital.
Doctors Re-Evaluating Their Careers
The second article was recently published on the KevinMD website. Its author, an accomplished physician, is also a wife and mother. These days, she finds herself questioning what it means to be a physician. She is no longer employed. Furthermore, she is playing the role of homeschool mother.
Perhaps the most poignant observation in her post is the realization that she was deemed nonessential in the midst of a pandemic. How can that be? Like so many of her colleagues, she realized that the way the system works makes medicine more of a job than a career.
The big take away from her piece is that doctors are beginning to re-evaluate their careers. They are wondering if they still want to be employed by hospitals and group practices. They are wondering if it is better to shift to locum tenens work or get into concierge medicine.
Spend a few minutes digging around on the Health Jobs Nationwide website and you will discover that physician jobs are coming back. As the pandemic subsides, elective procedures and primary care are rebounding. It is just that doctors might not be rebounding with them.
Employment vs. Self-Employment
It could be that all of this will lead to a renewed debate over employment versus self-employment. Beginning in the mid-90s, when private practices were being swallowed up by group practices and healthcare groups, physicians saw employment as an attractive option. Being employed allowed one to practice medicine without having to worry about the headaches of running a private practice. Twenty-five years later, the doctor’s mindset might be changing yet again.
The old model of private practice is not likely to rebound in any meaningful way. Medical groups are just too big at this point. But it would be no surprise to see a surge in concierge medicine and locum tenens. Both models give opportunities for self-employment without being burdened by health insurance companies and the management practices of corporate healthcare groups.
There is little doubt that the coronavirus crisis has impacted physician jobs in the short term. It is quite possible it will forever change those same jobs moving forward.