Specialty Physician Recruitment: The Unique Challenges of Recruiting In-Demand Specialists

This is part 1 of a 2-part series on an updated approach to specialty physician recruitment. This part reviews the challenges and outdated methods of specialty physician recruiting, and in part 2, we outline the new, updated approach.

Specialty Physician Recruitment: The Unique Challenges of Recruiting In-Demand Specialists
The Unique Challenges of Recruiting In-Demand Specialists Top Physician Recruitment Challenges The Other Problem? Outdated Physician Recruitment Methods So, What Can Be Done to Improve Physician Recruitment?

The Unique Challenges of Recruiting In-Demand Specialists

In today’s climate, filling specialty medical positions is more challenging than ever, and finding top-notch specialists is especially tricky. First, you must find them, and then you have to reach out without scaring them away—and then, if you succeed up to this point, the hard work of enticing them to consider a new position begins.

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Top Physician Recruitment Challenges

Supply is Not Matching Demand

Various types of physicians undergo rigorous schooling— including multiple years of training after completing four years of medical school. An aging population moving to retirement, a significant number of physicians leaving practice due to burnout, and a waning interest in entering the medical field post-pandemic is leaving a gaping hole in the clinician supply.

As of May 2023, there are about 1,077,000 active physicians in the United States.


There’s simply a fundamental supply and demand problem. Hospitals need all types of specialty services available. In many cases, a growing and aging population is putting even more stress on the need for specialty services. So, recruiting successfully now is critical because it will only get more challenging over time. Ensure the person you hire is a perfect match for the job so you don’t have the added cost (and lost revenue) of turnover.

By 2034, experts predict a shortage of 21,000 to 77,000 non-primary care specialists.


Total Projected Physician Shortage Range, 2019-2034

Source: Association of American Medical Colleges, 2021

Specialty Physicians are Hiding

The high demand for certain types of physician specialties means they are constantly bombarded with job opportunities in which they have no interest—sometimes upward of 20 per day. Even a slight indication of interest has the potential to unleash a flood of additional calls and emails, which makes these doctors wary of speaking to anyone.

In addition, there is risk associated with being known to be considering another position, and these specialists don’t want to take that chance. Facilities invest in their physicians with introductions to referring doctors, community recognition, and board endorsements. Any threat to that investment could result in organizations trying to refill that position early or becoming less generous with their professional perks.

Physicians don’t want to rock the boat by making it obvious they are open to new opportunities—so even doctors who are dissatisfied in their current roles are difficult to find and engage in a conversation.

Compensation Negotiations are Complicated

Recruiters are largely in the dark when it comes to understanding the compensation expectations of specialized clinicians, as are the physicians themselves. It’s like two people trying to find one another in a large, dark room.

There’s significant information asymmetry between medical facilities and the specialty clinicians they want to hire.

Many health systems get their “market” numbers from companies like MGMA and Sullivan Cotter. These publications report samples of historic hospital-provided survey data from a prior year, which means it is generally outdated by the time they are released. Factor in the small size and limited geographic diversity of those samples, and you can conclude that the reported data does not represent all the different markets where physicians practice. Add in the pandemic’s wild west market conditions, and the reality is that even the most recently published compensation data is effectively nearly five years old.

Recruiters are consistently underestimating fair compensation for various specialties.

On the other side of the negotiating table, physicians get their compensation insights from their peers. While these conversations are likely more accurate and relevant than data coming from publications, it’s unlikely they provide the complete picture. Given the nuances in individual compensation packages, it’s impossible to create an apples-to-apples comparison of positions in casual conversation.

Physicians often overestimate fair compensation based on anecdotal and incomplete reports from their peers.


Ultimately, employers and candidates are operating from entirely different perceptions of market reality, making it incredibly difficult to come to agreements considered fair by both sides.


COVID was the Wild West

Even as we transition back to pre-COVID normal, the compensation data for medical specialties remains resistant to the return to equilibrium.

Understanding the scope of COVID compensation impacts is incredibly difficult. Some physicians had their hours and compensation cut, some saw increased wRVUs, which bumped up their total income, and others were able to renegotiate based on the COVID market environment when their contract was up.

With no set rulebook, each facility, department, and state operated on unique terms, making it nearly impossible to now reestablish an accurate baseline compensation for doctors.

The Other Problem? Outdated Physician Recruitment Methods

All the challenges associated with filling open positions come to a head when considering traditional recruitment methods. These strategies fail to address specialists’ needs and expectations in today’s market.

  • Pay, post, and pray: The most common method includes paying for ads and posting on job boards. This passive strategy does not meet the moment for in-demand professionals—and hasn’t improved even with digital advancements.
  • Cold emails, calls, and texts: This is a more active approach, but with so many physicians being bombarded with offers, recruiters are often ignored or get lost in the sea of spam.
  • Conferences: Conferences, especially specialty conferences, provide an opportunity to speak with more doctors to understand what they’re looking for, but most are attending for other reasons, such as earning CME, learning about research, and sharing best practices. And, as you have no doubt experienced, most physicians do not tend to seek you out at conferences, and the ones who do likely are not the ones you want.
  • Professional organizations: Similar to conferences, promoting open positions through organizations gets recruiters access to the right people, but much like the pay, post, and pray method, it’s just too passive to be effective.
  • Headhunters: Whether healthcare organizations have headhunters in-house or hire an agency, this is a costly approach, and the tactics they use are often the very same ineffective ones mentioned above.

Only 14% of physicians are actively searching for a job, while over 50% are sitting on the job market sidelines, curious to explore other career opportunities.


So, What Can Be Done to Improve Physician Recruitment?

Improving physician recruitment starts with taking a more candidate-first approach to the process. By understanding what candidates want, you can recruit and retain them for a job they will stay in for a long time.

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Read Part 2

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