Growing Angst – The Post-COVID Physician Job Market

(The J3P Team is offering a free COVID_19 Support Program for our physician clients during this crisis – contact us for more information.)

Organizations who value, partner with, and support their physicians will have an advantage.

Unprecedented Uncertainty

The physician job market has not changed much over the past few decades.  The driving theme has been a current and projected shortage of physicians, with no real plan to remedy the situation.   The COVID-19 crisis is poised to disrupt the physician workforce and job market – in ways that won’t become clear any time soon.

Two things are becoming clearer, though, every day –

  1. Every physician is likely thinking differently about his or her future, and facing an unfamiliar and uncomfortable level of angst and uncertainty.
  2. Smart organizations realize that they need to partner with physicians, to solve problems –  and to ensure physician success.  Organizations that show this level of partnership and support will build the physician workforce, and the physician leaders, they need.

(For a summary of how hospitals are preparing for a post-COVID world, see: from Kaufman Hall.)

The Current Physician “Workforce”

Our healthcare system has never treated physicians as a “workforce” to be understood, managed, supported, and developed.  There’s a disconnect between the medical school/training complex and the needs of the broader system.

Hospitals and health systems still don’t actively manage their physician workforce in any meaningful way. Many physicians leave their training with little understanding of the business of medicine, the broader healthcare system they’ll be working in, their employment options, or with a deliberate plan for career success.

(See our blog – Re-Thinking the Approach to Physician Success)

Coming Out of This Crisis

Physicians need to take control of their own future.” 

COVID-19 is disrupting the entire healthcare system – in many ways we won’t fully understand for some time.  It will also bring unprecedented changes to the physician job market, and we’ll see some of these impacts fairly quickly.  Right now, though, there are more questions than answers as to what these changes will be. 

What’s happening out there?  An interesting mix of trends, changes, and shifts – some short term – some with longer-lasting impacts and no-one seems to know where we’ll be in few months. 

(See, also – Early COVID Physician Leadership Lessons)

A Few Current Observations

  • Some hospitals and groups have been forced to furlough physicians and impose drastic pay cuts.
  • In some cases, these are academic programs that were already asking physicians to make sacrifices.
  • Many surgeons are becoming agitated with the inability to schedule cases and no clear path for how the OR returns to full function.
  • ED doctors have seen volumes of non-COVID visits nearly disappear. They want the hospital to start actively reassuring the public the ED is a safe place to visit and they should not hesitate if they have a medical need. 
  • Radiology and Pathology departments have seen 50-70% reductions in their business, which will hit their incomes hard.
  • Intensivists and hospitalists are worried about having enough partners to take care of the patients if a surge hits, and having adequate PPE. They are also concerned about staffing and PPE for the hospital staff
  • To meet the demands of the virus, certain markets are facing an acute shortage of some specialties.

Pressing Questions…

Physicians who are furloughed or have their salaries cut . . . will they stay with/return to their employer?  Will they feel valued and appreciated?

  • Physicians who are furloughed or have their salaries cut – will they feel they’ve been treated unfairly – will they stay with/return to their employer?  Will they feel valued and appreciated?
  • Many private practices, even some of the larger, stronger, market-dominant practices, are facing difficult financial decisions. Some may close. Will these physicians be looking to make a move?
  • Will some more senior physicians delay retirement to make up for financial market uncertainty as the economy recovers?
  • Some care delivery models will change drastically.  The quick implementation of telehealth may portend a drastic shift for certain specialties. 
  • Will demand for other services decline or shift – altering the demand and long-term outlook for some specialties?
  • Some organizations have put all physician recruiting on hold because their financial situation is so uncertain.  When might Federal assistance make them comfortable enough to resume?
  • Will those organizations in a better financial position be at a serious advantage in attracting candidates? Will this shift market dynamics?
  • Will hospitals continue to pursue acquire independent groups?  Will struggling groups become targets? Will health systems have the resources to buy them?
  • Will we see new hospital/private group partnership models?
  • Will regulatory and payment models shift and evolve to accommodate the new reality?
  • Will physician group still be interested in physician groups?

(See:  True Leadership – Cedars Sinai Surgeon in Chief’s Letter to His Team)

Short Term Advice for Physicians, and Organizations

  • Physicians – Physicians need to take control of their own future.  They need to understand the business of medicine, and the larger healthcare system.  They need to be able to communicate their value and, make no assumptions about job security.  They should also appreciate that their group, or their employer, is looking for physicians who are willing and able to partner to solve problems, and to lead. Those who display these skills will be in demand.
  • Groups/Hospitals and Health Systems.  Organizations who value, partner with, and support their physicians will have an advantage. Now is the time to think about physicians as an invaluable asset and workforce -a workforce that needs to be understood and developed -for their success, and for the success of the organization.
  • Physician Leadership – Physician leaders have stepped up to help manage this crisis.  Take advantage of this opportunity to give those physician leaders what they need to succeed, and to learn from this crisis and develop the next generation of physician leaders.

To learn more about how we support our clients, and physician success – visit us at