Nurse practitioners were the most recruited providers among physicians and advanced practitioners, according to a new report by search firm Merritt Hawkins.
This marks the first time in the report's 27-year history that physicians did not hold the top spot. For the past 14 years alone, family physicians were the most recruited position, Merritt Hawkins said.
"COVID-19 and other market forces are changing the dynamics of physician and advanced practitioner recruiting," Tom Florence, president of Merritt Hawkins, said in a statement. "NPs are coming into their own in a market that puts a premium on easy access to care and cost containment."
Nurse practitioners are in demand to staff urgent care centers and outpatient clinics, as well to provide telemedicine services, Florence said.
The reported noted that more patients, often those who are younger, are choosing alternatives to the traditional primary-care setting, which is also softening demand for primary-care physicians, who were the second most recruited providers according to the report.
"Primary-care physicians are still a vital part of team-based care and will be increasingly responsible for coordinating the care of older patients with multiple chronic conditions," Florence said. "But the recruiting frenzy in primary care is over."
Search engagements for family physicians only represented 18% of Merritt Hawkins' engagement during the one-year period April 1, 2020 to March 31,2021 analyzed in the report, which is down from 20% the previous year and 22% two years earlier, the company said. Conversely, specialist physicians represented 64% of the firm's search engagements over the past year, and advanced practitioners, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified registered nurse anesthetists made up 18%.
Merritt Hawkins attributed the gain in demand for specialists to the country's aging population, the number of specialists nearing retirement age and the ability of nurse practitioners to handle many of the duties of primary care physicians. In a June 2021 report, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimated there would be a shortage of 48,000 primary-care physicians and 77,000 specialists by 2034.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of search engagements Merritt Hawkins did for physicians dropped 25%, but the firm expects this decrease in demand to be temporary and tied to pandemic shutdowns. Florence said the factors that have historically created demand for physicians are still in place, such as a growing and aging population, a limited supply of newly trained physicians and an aging physician workforce.
In line with decreased demand, starting salaries also were lower for many providers, the firm said. Nurses practitioners and physician assistants, however, both saw increases. Starting salaries rose 12% to 140,000 for nurse practitioners and 14% to $128,000 for physician assistants, according to the report.
Physicians, who typically see cost-of-living pay increases each year, generally experienced much more modest salary gains in 2020, according to Modern Healthcare's 28th annual Physician Compensation Survey, which analyzes data from surveys of 10 placement firms, including Merritt Hawkins. In 2020, the overall average of the reported median physician compensation inched upward less than 0.5% from the previous year to $416,966. Compare that to 2019 when the overall average increased 2.7% from the year before.
The healthcare sector added 36,800 jobs in July, reversing a dip in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, the sector has improved jobs numbers every month of 2021 except for June.
Merritt Hawkins is a company of AMN Healthcare.