If you’ve ever had reason to find a new primary care physician, you know it can be frustrating at times. You might consider the physician’s credentials, reputation, personality, availability, and medical perspective (for example, does he have an aggressive or conservative approach?), not to mention whether or not the one you find is in your insurance network. It gets stressful, especially if you’re in need of professional medical attention sooner rather than later.
One issue that significantly increases the difficulty of finding the perfect fit is the fact that there is currently a shortage of physicians. Generally speaking, the search for a physician can be done by the human resources department of a hospital or a committee within a practice. However, the time it takes to find viable candidates can be prohibitive, especially when the committee members have other responsibilities within the organization. A recruiting firm offers the advantage of being able to commit to the search full time until the position is filled.
According to Michelle Houchin, CMPE, President of Adkisson Search Consultants (ASC), a firm specializing in recruiting physicians, advanced practitioners, and medical executives, more and more healthcare organizations are using recruiters simply because a recruiting firm specializes in finding the right people for the right job.
Another incentive for healthcare facilities to utilize the services of a recruiter is that some specialties are more difficult to find than others simply because there are not enough physicians to meet the demand. With fewer physicians to be found, the burden of the search can become even more overwhelming. Unless that’s your full-time job.
Take primary care physicians, for example.
The ageing of the baby boomers represents one element of a perfect storm that affects the physician shortage: The patient population has increased overall. Add in the fact that people in general now live longer and the patient load becomes even more challenging.
On the other hand, baby-boomer-aged physicians are starting to retire, and they are not being replaced by the same type of physician. “The new generation of physicians want more life/work balance, so they aren’t willing to work as many hours. They do not want to make rounds in the hospital after seeing patients in the clinic all day,” explains Houchin. There are more female physicians, but they, too, want time with their family to be balanced—they may opt to work part-time. Fewer going into the field, those in the field working fewer hours—it adds up to a smaller supply.
Bottom line for the patient: It’s harder to get in to see a primary care physician—there just aren’t as many available. The problem becomes, as Shannon McKay, Vice President at Adkisson Search Consultants, explains is “How do we take care of patients when there is a physician shortage?” More often than not, the answer is found in the services offered by advanced practitioners, specifically nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants (PA).
“We’ve placed many NPs and PAs in positions that used to be filled by primary care physicians,” says McKay. Rural clinics and urgent care facilities represent two prime examples. Depending on state laws regarding prescription authority and other medical legalities, a patient is likely to be able to see a NP or PA for the diagnosis, treatment, and pharmaceutical prescription for most common maladies. And, when necessary, the nurse practitioner or physician assistant is likely to refer their patient to the appropriate specialist, meeting the healthcare demands without primary care physicians.
The current trend shows the number of patients will continue to overwhelm the supply of physicians in the coming years. McKay’s advice is based on what she’s seen over years of recruiting and placing physicians all over the country: Patients need to be prepared to see an NP or PA or understand they may wait longer to see a physician.”
Wiese, B. (2011) Searching for a Physician? An Advanced Practitioner Might be Easier to Find. Bloomington, IL.