Physician recruiting took a big hit during the pandemic, especially during the first months of 2020 when many recruiting departments shut down completely. While conditions for physician recruiters have improved considerably in 2022, the effects of COVID-19 — both positive and negative — will be long lasting. Data from the 2021 benchmarking survey report from the Association for Advancing Physician & Provider Recruitment (AAPPR) offers important insights into how the pandemic affected recruiters and what the future of healthcare recruiting holds in store.
Physician searches dropped in 2020 but are trending upward
Physician searches dropped in 2020 to a median of 29.6 searches, down from 32 in 2019. AAPPR president Emerson Moses, who is also regional director of clinical talent acquisition for Optum, points out that many physician recruiters saw an abrupt halt to their work at the beginning of the pandemic because there were so many unknowns.
“We operate in a world where a lot of our patient volume comes from fee-for-service and elective procedures,” Moses says. “Especially in March and the first six months of the pandemic when everything really shut down, we saw a virtual halt of elective procedures. Almost every organization put searches on hold at some point, because providers were being redeployed into the urgent staffing areas or practices weren’t taking on patients outside of emergency needs.”
Moses says she had not experienced anything like that in the industry before but that the numbers have stabilized now. However, she’s not sure whether physician recruiters are seeing pre-COVID-19 search numbers yet.
“In my own organization, the pandemic caused us to either create new work models or assess if we really need these positions right now,” Moses says. “I would be surprised if we didn’t see an uptick in searches again for our 2021 AAPPR data, but I don’t think we’re going to rebound 100%. I think it’s still very much an unknown.”
Recruiting departments decreased in size and days to fill increased
The AAPPR survey found that many organizations downsized their number of recruitment professionals slightly in 2020. The average recruitment department employed just four recruitment professionals in 2020, down from 4.3 in 2019. At the same time, the average days to fill open positions increased to an average of 126 days for physician searches and 64 days for advanced practice provider searches.
Moses points out that in the talent acquisition space some people were furloughed or laid off for a period of time, while hiring needs decreased. The uncertainty of 2020 also impacted the time it took to fill positions.
“Overall, time to fill has started to get longer. It’s indicative of the physician recruitment space — the historical lack of resources and investment in provider recruitment that we see in a lot of organizations, particularly smaller organizations or more rural organizations,” she says. “The housing market also exploded, which made it less desirable and more difficult to relocate people — and people didn’t necessarily want to relocate during the pandemic.”
Flexible hours and remote work have become nearly universal
Like most industries during the pandemic, physician recruitment showed a significant increase in the number of physician recruiters who transitioned to working from home. In 2018, just 56% of physician recruiters said they could work from home, while in 2020, that number reached 90%. More than 80% of recruiters also say they have flexible work hours.
“I think organizations learned that teams can be just as effective working remotely and managing their time in a more flexible way. Many of us are relationship people, and we’re always going to have folks who love that and thrive on site,” Moses says. “But there are also a lot of professionals in this space — myself included — who will probably never want to go back to an in-office environment. Personally, I’m more efficient when I work from home.”
Virtual interviews have strengthened physician recruiting
Remote work has also made it easier in some ways for recruiters to do their jobs, since virtual interviews can save time, Moses explains.
“If we were potentially relocating someone and having them come in to interview from another state, you’d wait weeks to get them on site. With a video interview and a really well-running team, we have candidates that phone screen on Monday, are done interviewing by Thursday, and get an offer on Friday,” she says. “It’s a game changer and a completely different approach to recruiting in the provider space.”
Moses also believes video interviews may explain the survey data showing the improvement in the percentage of job offers accepted. Physician offers increased to an all-time high of 85.5% in 2020, while advanced practice providers rose to a high of 74.4%.
“My gut reaction is that we’re getting better at figuring out what our candidates need, so we’re not offering jobs to people that aren’t going to accept them,” she says.
Moses recommends recruiters continue to advocate for themselves and the work they do, which is critical to healthcare organizations.
“We’re a very resilient group of professionals who believe passionately in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” she says. “Embracing the virtual environment has created significantly more opportunities for physician and provider recruiters nationally. It’s become one of the most competitive markets out there, and I don’t think that would have happened this way and at this volume without embracing the remote environment.”
For more data and analysis on healthcare recruiting trends, contact AAPPR for a full copy of the report.