Study: More hospitals employ physicians

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Hospitals offered employment to physicians in 43 percent of the searches conducted by Merritt, Hawkins & Associates during a time period reviewed in The 2007 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives. The national physician search and consulting firm examined more than 3,000 recruiting assignments conducted between April 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007.

That represents an increase from 23 percent in the previous year and 19 percent the year before that. "Physicians have long prized their independence," observes Joseph Hawkins, chief executive officer of Merritt, Hawkins & Associates. "But today they are more willing to exchange independence for the security and convenience of hospital employment."

According to Hawkins, physicians are accepting employed positions with hospitals in order to avoid the hassles of private practice, which include high malpractice premiums and struggles for reimbursement. Employment helps secure physician loyalty to hospitals, Hawkins says, and reduces direct competition between physicians and hospitals for medical procedures and tests.

Merritt, Hawkins & Associates' 2007 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives also reflects a steady increase in demand for primary care physicians, including general internists, family practitioners and pediatricians. The number of searches the firm conducted for general internists increased by 120 percent from 2003 to 2007. Searches for family practitioners increased by 84 percent in the same time frame while searches for pediatricians increased by 21 percent. Hawkins attributes openings in primary care to the fact that fewer medical students are choosing to practice family medicine and internal medicine, diminishing supply. Meanwhile, a growing and aging population is driving up demand for medical services performed by primary care doctors.

The report indicates that the financial incentives offered to recruit physicians continue to increase, reflecting robust demand for doctors in most specialties. Specialties seeing the greatest increase in income offers over the past year according to the report include urologists, otolaryngologists, cardiologists, orthopedic surgeons, emergency medicine physicians and family practitioners. The report also shows that signing bonuses have become a standard incentive offered in 72 percent of the searches Merritt, Hawkins & Associates conducted last year, up from 46 percent two years ago. Signing bonuses can range from as little as $5,000 to as much as $100,000, the report shows.