John Nelson writes…
At the 2008 SHM Annual Meeting in San Diego I got some ribbing for raising the issue of whether the supply of hospitalists might catch up with or exceed demand within the next 5 or 10 years. I posed the question while moderating a panel discussion, and all three panelists were convinced that there would be a shortage of hospitalists for the rest of our careers. One panelist, Ron Greeno, even teased that I just worry too much to even think of asking such a question.
So I asked the nearly 2,000 people attending the panel discussion whether they were part of a hospitalist group that was currently recruiting new doctors. Nearly every hand went up. Only about 3 people raised their hand to indicate their group had no immediate plans to add hospitalists. So relying on the Wisdom of Crowds, I decided that maybe the supply of hospitalists would continue to fall short of demand for many years to come.
While it can be really stressful to work in a practice with a staffing shortage, there are some benefits for current hospitalists. For one thing, the shortage is a force that can lead to increases in salary and better working conditions, and it makes layoffs, even in distressed economic times like these, very unlikely.
But in just the last month or so I have had several lead hospitalists from practices across the country say that they are fully staffed for the time being and don’t plan to increase staffing in the current calendar year. Some anticipate the need to replace departing doctors, but not to expand the total number of doctors in the practice. Of course, I’ve heard this from only a handful of practices. I doubt it reflects a significant national trend – yet. But each one of these leaders said that even as recently as a year ago they thought they would continue expanding for years to come and are very surprised at how quickly their rate of growth has leveled off; even if it is only temporary.
I plan to post about the supply and demands for hospitalists again in the coming months and will let you know if it seems to me that supply is starting to catch up, or whether the practices that don’t plan to grow this year are just a blip in the overall hospitalist workforce. Each bi-annual SHM survey of the hospitalist movement (’08 survey here, next survey will be published in the spring of 2010) provides a comprehensive picture of hospitalist recruiting needs. And the number of recruitment ads in medical publications and on the Web is another good barometer. So far, it doesn’t seem to me that these have decreased at all.