The job market is red-hot for young doctors, a new report finds.

A survey of medical residents in their final year of training conducted by Merritt Hawkins, a national physician search firm, found that some residents were overwhelmed with job solicitations and more than half were expecting starting pay of $226,000 or more.

Travis Singleton, an executive vice president with Merritt Hawkins, said the demand for new doctors encompasses both primary care doctors and specialists. To his surprise, some institutions are beginning recruitment in the first year of residency. Many are offering $1,000 to $5,000 a month “stipends” to residents who’ll promise a year or two with the organization when they finish training, a perk once reserved for the biggest surgical stars. Young doctors are feeling so sure they’ll get hired that they’re turning the stipends down to preserve their options. Loan forgiveness and signing bonuses are common, especially in rural areas, which have long struggled to attract doctors.

“It’s just a ubiquitous feeding frenzy,” Singleton said. “To say they have job security is the understatement of the year.”

The new graduates strongly preferred to work in at least mid-size cities, with 66 percent seeking communities with 250,000 residents or more. Only 1 percent wanted to work in towns with fewer than 10,000 people.

The U.S. is facing a shortage of 90,000 to 120,000 physicians by 2035 or so, Singleton said. A key factor crippling response to rising demand is that residency slots, a crucial step toward practicing medicine in this country, have been capped since 1997, he said. The United States has about 800,000 licensed doctors, he said, but it’s hard to tell how many see patients full-time.

Gregory Kane, chair of the department of medicine at Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, said the market for new doctors has been strong for several years. “Jobs are plentiful,” he said. “There are few geographic limitations.”

He means that doctors can find work almost anywhere, although couples are likely to have better luck in bigger cities. He said that he had not heard of stipend offers in Philadelphia and that loan forgiveness is “spotty.” Salaries, he said, are often tied to productivity measures based on the complexity of care doctors are providing.

The good job market means Jefferson has to work to keep its grads. “We have to compete with health care systems across the country to retain the best and brightest,” he said.

One caveat about the Merritt Hawkins survey: Only 391 of the 20,000 residents and fellows who received the survey by email actually answered the questions, a response rate of 2 percent. That rate reflects the fact that physicians are “over-surveyed,” Singleton said. Plus, companies like Merritt Hawkins are competing with drug companies that will pay residents $100 to answer their questions. The margin of error on the Merritt survey is 4.9 percent, low enough to support “fairly strong assertions” about the young doctors, the company said.

Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm, surveyed residents in their last year of training about job solicitations and expectations. The doctors received many recruiting offers and had a strong preference for jobs in bigger communities.
Merritt Hawkins
Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm, surveyed residents in their last year of training about job solicitations and expectations. The doctors received many recruiting offers and had a strong preference for jobs in bigger communities.

Findings from the survey include:

  • Forty-five percent of the residents said they had gotten 100 or more job solicitations. Sixty-four percent said they’d heard from recruiters too many times. The recruitment offers were high for both primary care and specialist physicians. Graduates of U.S. schools were recruited more often than those who had gone to foreign medical schools.
  • Ninety-one percent of the young physicians said they would rather be employed by a hospital, medical group, or other facility than join an independent private practice. The percentage who’d like to be a hospital employee has grown steadily from 22 percent in 2009 to 45 percent this year. Only 1 percent would like to work in an urgent care center.
  • Forty-two percent owed $200,000 or more in student loans.
  • Nineteen percent said they’d choose something other than medicine if they had it to do over again, but in 2011, 29 percent of residents in their last year wished they had chosen something other than medicine. This year, surgeons and diagnostic medicine doctors like radiologists and pathologists were more likely to regret their choices than primary care doctors. Singleton said this dissatisfaction likely stems from disruption in the industry. Doctors are often happier with their choice once they start practicing.
  • The residents’ salary expectations are actually too low. According to a different 2018 Merritt Hawkins report, average starting pay for primary care doctors ranged from $230,000 for pediatricians to $261,000 for internal medicine doctors. In the specialties, starting pay was $533,000 for an orthopedic surgeon, $405,000 for an otolaryngologist and $386,000 for a urologist.
  • When choosing a job, the residents’ priorities were location, the financial package, having adequate personal time, and lifestyle factors.

The U.S. has about 128,000 residents and fellows. Prospective doctors enter residency programs after completing college and four years of medical school. They typically devote three to seven years to residency and fellowship training.