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Medical practice staffing trends

Effective medical office management requires staying abreast of staffing trends. With this in mind, Medical Office Manager takes a look at the trends most likely to impact your practice.

Physician shortage

According to projections by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020 and 130,000 physicians by 2025.

“The basic problem is that demand for physicians is rising rapidly as the population grows, ages, and becomes more insured. However, the number of physicians being trained is not growing correspondingly,” says Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins, the leading physician search and consulting firm in the United States.

One answer has been locum tenens (temporary) physicians. A 2014 survey from Staff Care, a firm that matches locum tenens physicians with health care clients, finds that approximately 40 percent of U.S. health care facilities are seeking locum tenens physicians at any given time. Primary care physicians are in the greatest demand as locum tenens.

Nursing shortage

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists registered nurses (RNs) among the top occupations in terms of job growth from 2012 to 2022. The RN workforce is expected to grow from 2.71 million in 2012 to 3.24 million in 2022, an increase of 526,800 or 19 percent. The BLS also projects the need for 525,000 replacements nurses in the workforce, bringing the total number of job openings for nurses due to growth and replacements to 1.05 million by 2022.

Nevertheless, nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand for services. At the same time, a significant segment of the nursing workforce is nearing retirement age. One survey, conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and The National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, finds 55 percent of the RN workforce is age 50 or older. 

“The shortage of qualified nurses in many parts of the country poses hiring issues, especially for medical practices outside of metropolitan areas or those competing for talent with hospitals and/or other institutions such as assisted living facilities,” says Gail Norton, principal of talentRISE, a Chicago-based management consulting firm specializing in talent acquisition.

Consolidation of practices

Against this backdrop, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and market forces have driven the consolidation of medical groups, hospitals, and other facilities through the promotion of population health management, the implementation of electronic health records (EHR), and the growing adoption of value-based payment systems.

“The emphasis the ACA puts on quality based payments means hospitals and other facilities must have the right number and kind of nurses, doctors, NPs, PAs, and other professionals in place to ensure patient access, patient satisfaction, and the patient follow-up that is needed to achieve positive outcomes and avoid errors,” says Singleton.

Growth of health care jobs

Therefore, perhaps not surprising, the demand for skilled workers across the entire health care industry is projected to increase.

According to the BLS, health care faces the largest employment growth of all industries. From 2012 to 2022, employment for health care practitioners and technical occupations is projected to increase by 21.5 percent; for the same period, employment for health care support occupations is projected to increase by 28.1 percent.

Employees have options

Add to the mix a growing economy and the lowest unemployment rate in seven years, and it becomes apparent that medical practices face significant challenges when it comes to finding and keeping staff.

Meeting these challenges requires focusing on best hiring practices. However, as important is keeping the focus on employee retention front and center.

Arguably, there has never been a better time to review salaries, benefits, and perks; training, development, and growth opportunities; rewards and recognition programs; the work environment; and how your practice compares to others.

Keeping the staff you have, and keeping them engaged, is critical to the success of your medical practice.

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