Managing the Talent Gap in Health Care Staffing

By Roy Maurer May 7, 2015

Health care employers should formulate succession plans, redesign compensation packages, and embrace recruiting technology trends such as mobile and social engagement in anticipation of upcoming hiring challenges due to the predicted gap in health care staffing supply and demand.

Demand for health care services is predicted to swell in the next ten years, according to the 2015 Healthcare Recruiting Trends Survey conducted by HealtheCareers Network, a career hub for the health care industry.

But the supply of health care providers will simultaneously decrease, with shortages of qualified primary care and specialist physicians and nurses predicted by 2020. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Center for Workforce Studies, there will be 45,000 too few primary care physicians—and a shortage of 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists—in the next decade.

Bryan Bassett, managing director of HealtheCareers, said four factors are driving this shortage: millions of newly insured people entering the system due to the Affordable Care Act, aging Baby Boomers with increased medical needs, aging caregivers reaching retirement age and a stronger economy. There are also lifestyle factors at play causing shortages in specific fields, such as primary care. “Although more students are actually entering medical schools and residency programs than a decade ago, today’s young physicians often choose to specialize rather than choosing primary care as a way of ensuring a better work/life balance than their predecessors,” said Bassett.

Experts are also predicting a nursing shortage. According to a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away 78,089 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2013 due to a lack of faculty and classroom space, and budget constraints.

These shortage scenarios are directly reflected in the experience of surveyed employers.

HealtheCareers surveyed 565 recruiters, hiring managers and human resource professionals from a wide spectrum of health care settings in late 2014 and early 2015 to find out how they plan to address hiring challenges. Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of the employers surveyed expect to have the same or more job openings in 2015 than in 2014.

Almost half (43 percent) of those surveyed agree that the most difficult part of their recruiting process is finding qualified candidates. Respondents reported that they face the most difficulty hiring physicians, surgeons and registered nurses.

Tips for Hiring Health Care Providers

Recruiting and hiring health care providers will continue to be challenging, but what can employers do about it?

Bassett advised employers to first anticipate shortage cycles and make succession plans now. “The biggest issue of all for recruiters is planning for the unknown,” he said.

Employers need to design new types of compensation packages that reflect the changing financial and lifestyle needs of new physicians, remarked Barkley Davis, senior director, physician recruitment at LifePoint Hospitals. It’s important to look for other financial incentives that aren’t tied directly to salary, he said. “The No. 1 thing that almost all new doctors need is debt relief.”

Stipends could also be used to build affinity with doctors while they’re still in training, he added. “If residents can commit early to practice with us, maybe one-to-two years out, then we have a package where we can start paying them a monthly stipend.”

Bassett added that work/life balance will also be an important component of an employer’s benefits package.

Building and nurturing a talent pipeline is key. “There needs to be more forward-thinking about using talent relationship management, as well as job boards and association contacts, to meet candidates and stay in touch with those who might be available in a year or two when you need them,” Bassett said. This is especially helpful for recruiting specialists. “Make sure you’re recruiting in specialties where you can make hires today, even if you’re a couple years out because those areas will get tight again,” he said.

Hiring managers may want to consider the trend of hiring highly qualified nonphysician providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to meet physician staffing shortfalls. About one-third (30 percent) of survey respondents indicated that they are considering nurses and physician assistants as alternate candidates for difficult-to-fill physician positions.

This strategy is supported by a 2013 study by the RAND Corporation, which found that projected physician shortages might be effectively addressed with patient-centered delivery models that envision greater reliance on nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Using Social, Mobile to Connect with Candidates

The HealtheCareers survey results illustrate the ways employers are finding and connecting with job candidates. The data revealed that nearly 80 percent of respondents use online job boards, 48 percent use social media sites and 43 percent use their in-house applicant tracking system (ATS) to find candidates. While 87 percent of employers reported that they either have an ATS or will be implementing one in 2015, less than one third (27 percent) believe that their ATS is very accurate in its ability to track applicant sources. Sixty percent of respondents use a self-select applicant drop-down box to identify application sources. Only about 2 percent have implemented referral site cookies for the last site visited plus additional influencer sites.

Thirty percent of respondents who utilize physician-specific job boards make use of e-mail blast services, as compared to 4.4 percent of those who only use general health care or nonhealth-care-specific sites.

Social professional networks are the fastest-growing source of quality hires globally, increasing 73 percent over the past four years, according to LinkedIn’s 2015 Global Recruiting Trends Report. Almost half of employers surveyed by HealtheCareers reported using LinkedIn as part of their recruiting strategy, while 28 percent utilized Facebook and 12 percent used Twitter.

A large majority of respondents (83 percent) believe that it’s important to have a mobile-friendly career page and application process, but only 33 percent said they actually have a mobile-optimized career page, and only 27 percent reported having a mobile-optimized application process.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

Quick Links:

SHRM OnlineStaffing Management page

Subscribe to SHRM’s Talent Management e-newsletter


Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Are you a department of one?

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.