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A new report shows a spike in starting salaries for urgent care doctors and others across the U.S. as the physician shortage continues. The high demand for doctors is good news for those hoping to practice medicine in urgent care, however it underscores the ongoing struggle to hire and retain urgent care physicians.
Urgent care physicians were ninth on the list of most recruited specialists—up from 20th last year—highlighting the growing consumer demand for immediate care services. The average salary for an urgent care doctor rose from $210,000 last year to $221,000 in the most recent study. The data comes from the Merritt Hawkins’ 2016 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives, which studied more than 3,300 recruiting assignments from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016.
The nation is projected to face a shortage of as many as 94,700 physicians by the year 2025, according to the most recent analysis by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The vast shortage of primary care and other physicians is linked to the aging, increasingly ill population and medical schools not turning out primary care providers fast enough. Due to pay differentials, most medical students opt for specialties versus general practice.
The urgent care industry pulls from the same provider labor pool as primary care, so as demand increases for primary care providers the task of recruiting physicians for immediate care facilities becomes even more challenging.
And over the past two decades much has evolved in medical practice. Many providers are moving away from traditional full-time, private practices to positions in hospital, part-time practice, concierge medicine, and locum tenens—temporary, substitute providers who are sometimes hired to fill vacancies in urgent care centers so the facility can remain open and serving patients.
Urgent care centers rely on having a licensed practitioner to meet the legal requirements for delivering services. Some walk-in clinics are integrating more nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) to meet growing patient demand, since they can address most common urgent care conditions at a lower cost than doctors. But the growth of retail clinics and demand for NPs and PAs in primary care settings is leading to competition, increased pay, and scarcity of those medical professionals, too.
The urgent care setting offers more flexibility than traditional outpatient or hospitalist positions. Consider offering weekends-only scheduling, a four-day workweek, or part-time options to sweeten the pot for candidates. “The flexibility in scheduling can help physicians achieve greater work-life balance, which is highly attractive for many new and practicing physicians,” according to mdrsearch.com.
The overall compensation in urgent care is generally higher than what’s offered to physicians in an outpatient setting. Doctors moving from family medicine or internal medicine will likely be able to make more practicing in urgent care.
Urgent care centers should emphasize the no call benefit to prospective physicians, many of whom are looking for better work-life balance. Few traditional primary care opportunities offer no call, so it’s a benefit that makes urgent care practices stand out.
Additionally, sell the diverse practice opportunities: In an urgent care setting, physicians will have the opportunity to perform a broader range of clinical activities than a doctor in primary care. There’s an array of procedures (such as sutures and setting fractures), along with occupational medicine, travel medicine, and more. Urgent care doctors won’t have to worry about monotony, although there is a higher premium placed on patient service in this retail-oriented healthcare space.
In conclusion, the higher demand and pay for urgent care doctors is good news for the industry overall—as demand for the services and quality providers continues to grow. But the ongoing physician shortage means operators of urgent care centers need to sell the benefits of practicing convenient care to recruit and retain providers.