A red-hot job market awaits physicians completing residency training, so much so that well over half say they have too many potential employers battling for their attention.

A recently released survey found physicians at training’s end facing very strong recruiter interest in primary care and a wide range of other specialties. Nearly half the physicians said they received more than 100 feelers from prospective employers.

“Physicians coming out of training are being recruited like blue chip athletes,” said Travis Singleton, executive vice president at recruitment firm Merritt Hawkins, which conducted the 2019 Survey of Final-Year Medical Residents. “There are simply not enough new doctors to go around.”

Among the striking findings in the survey is that more than a third of respondents reported being unprepared to handle the personal business side of closing the deal on employment. The AMA Career Planning Resource offers advice on employment matters, along with a six-part “Making the Rounds” podcast series on negotiating a contract.

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Sixty-four percent of the 391 respondents said they get too many emails, calls and other contacts from recruiters. The breakdown by number of queries:

  • Over 100: 45%
  • 51–100: 21%
  • 26–50: 16%
  • 11–25: 10%
  • 0–10: 8%

The type of specialty that final-year residents are in did have an influence on the number of recruiting solicitations. The specialty types were self-defined by the survey respondents. “Diagnostic,” for example, likely includes pathologists and radiologists while “internal medicine/other” would probably cover subspecialists such as gastroenterologists.

Here is the share of each specialty type that reported getting more than 100 recruitment contacts:

  • Primary care—46%
  • Internal medicine/other—49%
  • Surgical—39%
  • Diagnostic—16%

Meanwhile, just 6% of final-year residents in a primary care specialty got 10 or fewer recruitment solicitations. That compares with 42% of final-year residents in a diagnostic specialty. And while 46% of U.S. grads were contacted more than 100 times by recruiters, 41% of international medical graduates (IMGs) also said they were solicited in the 100-plus range.

The respondents also were surveyed about what they’re looking for in practice, in areas such as quality of life, geographic destination and more.

For example, the respondents voiced very specific population-size requirements for their target geographic location:

  • Over 1 million: 20%.
  • 500,001–1 million: 22%.
  • 250,001–500,000: 23%.
  • 100,001–250,000: 18%.
  • 50,001–100,000: 10%.
  • 25,001–50,000: 5%.
  • 10,001–25,000: 1%.
  • 10,000 or less: 1%.

The breakdown by primary care and other specialists tracked largely the same way—50,000 population or less didn’t rise above the single digits. Surgeons and diagnostic specialists were among physicians most open to million-plus city living—29% and 21%, respectively, compared with 16% for primary care physicians—and they were markedly adverse to communities of to 100,001–250,000, citing them 15 percentage points lower than other doctors.

The vast majority of respondents—nearly 80%—expect pay packages of more than $176,000. No pay range expectations below that mark exceeded 10%. Most respondents—63%—preferred that income would come as salary with a production bonus.

Offsetting the pay expectations were student-loan obligations. Although a substantial number of respondents were debt-free, 42% reported obligations of more than $200,000 while 57% said they owed more than $100,000.

Many IMGs are members of the $200,000-plus debt club—25%—but that is roughly half the proportion of U.S. grads. At the other end of the spectrum, IMGs are well over twice as likely—at 58%—to have no debt at all. The researchers pointed out that foreign medical education is less expensive.

That debt disparity may contribute to a bit more regret among U.S. grads concerning career choice. Among U.S. grads, 21% reported that they would not choose medicine again as a career. The comparable proportion for IMGs was 13%.

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