I have written several columns on burnout, as I believe that this is a major issue for allergists, as with all physicians. College staff sent me a fascinating survey done by the Medical Group Management Association. As you may know, the College works with this group as they collect data related to physician income yearly. MGMA’s data is used by many organizations in setting salaries for employed physicians.
The survey of 921 U.S. health care leaders was conducted on March 2. The headline question was “Have you had a doctor retire unexpectedly in the past year?” For 28% of the respondents, the answer was “yes.” Think about it – more than a quarter of administrators and others in leadership positions at different clinics throughout the U.S. took an unplanned retirement. What were the reasons? As you might guess, the COVID-19 pandemic was a leading cause for the rise in leaving the medical profession. COVID-19 was responsible for 45% of retirements: 4% retiring due to being diagnosed with it and 41% from issues such as burnout, health risks, and loss of reimbursement due to the virus. I am uncertain how many allergists have retired because of COVID-19, but I have heard of many of you who are only doing telemedicine. Sadly, I know one of our colleagues who died from COVID-19.
In June 2020, the Association of American Medical Colleges released their paper The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2018 to 2033. The group predicted that by 2033 there would be a shortage of medical specialists, which includes allergists, of between 9,300 and 17,800. It points out that a large portion of the physician workforce is nearing traditional retirement age, and supply projections are sensitive to workforce decisions of older physicians. More than two of five currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade. Add the loss due to COVID-19 and the increase in physician burnout, and it is not surprising that there will be a dramatic physician shortfall by the end of this decade.
Another interesting survey done this year and mentioned in the MGMA survey article was conducted by Jackson Physician Search, a physician recruitment company for hospitals and other health care facilities. This survey examined physician retention and concluded that the U.S. is on the verge of a physician turnover epidemic. Results pointed out that health care administrators will need to develop better retention programs to keep physicians and increase physician engagement, mitigate burnout and create a more positive workplace culture. The group points out that physician turnover costs are staggering. Recruitment costs can add $250,000 or more for each physician when sourcing, relocation, and sign-on bonus are included. As allergists increasingly become employed physicians, there is no doubt that the health care organization which hired the allergist will be motivated to do whatever it can to keep them long term. Not only because of the cost to replace you, but with the number of physicians leaving the workplace being higher than new doctors entering practice, I believe that employed physicians will have a more active role in negotiating contracts, more input in decision making aspects of the practice, and increased perks such as student loan repayment.
The bottom line is that practicing allergists, along with other physicians, are in a great position as the demand for care exceeds the number of clinicians. Remember that you hold the upper hand in negotiations, and make sure you get everything you want when signing any employment contract.