While the latest employment report from the U.S. Department of Labor was upbeat with 173,000 jobs added and national unemployment rate at 5.1 percent, the latest figures for the healthcare industry are more ambiguous. Hiring in the healthcare sector was robust in July with 27,900 total jobs added and 15,700 jobs added by hospitals, but this is down from the 40,200 jobs added in June, 47,500 added in May, and 48,000 total jobs created in April earlier this year. Up until July, each of the previous ten months had seen an increase in the number of hospital jobs.
However, there is some evidence that medical organizations are hiring physicians and advanced practice providers at a diminished pace. Merrit Hawkins reported that the search for doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants by hospitals fell from 64 percent of all searches in April of 2014 to 51 percent of all searches in March of 2015. This is the first decline in hospital hiring in almost a decade. The drop-off in hiring has been attributed to major consolidation within the industry with newly enlarged organizations eliminating unnecessary redundancies and limiting new hires.
The latest data may suggest only a minor correction in an otherwise year of positive job growth, but the health care sector is a powerful indicator of economic health. In almost every major region, health care organizations, i.e. hospitals, are almost always major employers, so when they prosper and add jobs, the general economy is usually also enjoying vibrant growth. While the nation's recovery from the Great Recession can hardly be linked to President Obama's Affordable Care Act, much of the renewed financial buoyancy of many hospitals may stem from the greater population of insured patients. For many hospitals, 2014 was an inflection point when revenue growth accelerated considerably.
Overall demand for physicians and other medical professionals remains steady since ACA was implemented. A 2015 survey by Merritt Hawkins found that almost 46 percent of medical residents received a hundred or more job solicitations, which is similar to the 47 percent in 2011 when the industry was preparing for the influx of newly insured. Only 6 percent of medical residents received a comparable number of solicitations in 2008 when the recession was in full force.
Within the general upswing in physician hiring, there are trends of particular importance. AMN Healthcare, the country's largest medical staffing company, reported that revenue from locum tenens, nurse and physician permanent placement was up almost 40 percent in the second quarter of 2015, from the previous period a year earlier. This suggests that employers are looking to temporary replacements to shore up staffing vacancies as they continue their hiring searches.
The industry as a whole has embraced locum tenens physicians as demand has surged. In 2012, 74 percent of healthcare administrators used at least one locum tenens physician. This increased to 90 percent in 2013 and 91 percent in 2014. Hospital demand for locum tenens nurse practitioners and physician assistants has also grown in this period; 9.5 percent of organizations used temporary advanced practice providers in 2012, 19.5 percent in 2013 and 25 percent in 2014.
Article written by:
Robert Moghim, M.D.
CEO, Health Carousel Locum Tenens