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What resident physicians should know as job market rebounds

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the doctors’ job market – a hot market for newcomers for years – flipped 180 degrees as new jobs persisted and demand limited by a temporary postponement of non-urgent measures. However, the market has shifted again, making the current environment a productive one for new entrants to the job market as well as for young doctors looking for a new opportunity.

“There are a lot of needs right now,” said Michael Belkin, a divisional vice president at Merritt Hawkins for physician recruitment. “In our view, the job market is back in full swing. There has been a lot of pent-up demand. There have been a number of patients who have been reluctant to visit their doctor or participate in an elective procedure. These patients are returning to the doctor’s office in droves.”

In an interview with the AMA, Belkin offered his analysis of what the renewed demand for physician employment means for resident physicians entering the workforce for the first time, or for younger physicians looking to make a career move.

The pandemic has created more need for doctors working in the mental health field, which was already facing a shortage of doctors before COVID-19 hit. Radiology, according to Belkin, is also a specialty that gets a lot of interest from employers looking for doctors.

“Because of retirement and the swing of the pendulum toward more imaging needs, there was a real, accelerating need for diagnostic radiologists,” he said.

With epidemic intensive care units (ICUs) strained, Belkin and fellow enlisted men “see pulmonary care physicians, critical care physicians, and any provider working in the ICU space is essential,” he said. “COVID has really accelerated market demand.”

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Conversely, and despite the looming shortage of primary care physicians, Belkin says he anecdotally sees less need from potential employers for family physicians, internists and other primary care physicians.

“Primary care has seen consistent demand, but it’s not the feeding frenzy it was two or three years ago,” Belkin said. “During the pandemic, we’ve seen the demand for primary care dwindle somewhat.”

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Belkin said the current residents should get a lot of attention from potential employers. This interest can include an offer of up to a year and a half from completion of residency. “I would be a little surprised if there are residents abroad who don’t feel much interest,” Belkin said, adding that that interest may vary depending on the doctor’s specialty.

To attract residents, some employers offer salaries of up to $2,000 per month. They come with a time commitment to the business owner.

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Belkin cautions residents weighing their choices against basing their decision on a single criterion, whether it’s compensation or location. Making decisions based on a single factor is a major reason why he sees clinicians reassessing their career prospects after a few years of their career.

“My experience working with residents is that they associate all of their decisions based on a single decision point, usually location,” he said. “This seems to be the most well-known aspect of research for them. Unfortunately, this is not the best way to judge a training opportunity.”

Belkin also points out that your first career step won’t be your last. He said that working as a doctor every year will teach you about future preferences.

“A really high percentage of clinicians in the first four years of practice are looking to make changes, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “They seem more aware of what they really want.”

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