Rarely a day goes by when I’m not reading or hearing about physicians or nurses being unhappy with their jobs or career choices. One study that’s had its share of attention lately is research from the Mayo Clinic that found an increase in the percentage of doctors experiencing burnout and a decrease in the percentage satisfied with their work-life balance.
The findings certainly may reflect the feelings of the nearly 7,000 physicians who participated in the research. But they don’t reflect the feelings of the anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists I talk to about job opportunities and career choices as a recruiter for NorthStar Anesthesia and the sites we work with. They are optimistic, and they should be. By all indications, the demand for anesthesia services will continue to rise and, along with it, the demand for qualified anesthesiologists and CRNAs.
Tens of millions of surgical procedures are performed annually in the U.S. on an inpatient and outpatient basis that require anesthesia. The number of those procedures will continue to rise as the population ages and requires more health care services and as the percentage of people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes continue to rise.
However, the supply of anesthesiologists and CRNAs is not keeping pace with the increase in demand for their services. On the front end of that medical manpower pipeline is the lagging capacity of medical schools and residency programs to train the increasing number of medical students who are choosing anesthesia as their specialty. Though more nurses are, in fact, pursuing advanced practice degrees in anesthesia, the increased interest isn’t keeping pace with the need. On the other end of the pipeline are anesthesiologists and CRNAs opting to scale back their hours or retire because they’re in a better financial position to do so than they were just a few years ago.
That gap between supply and demand works in favor of anesthesiologists and CRNAs in terms of job opportunities, career choices, work hours, work environment and compensation.
For example, we’re experiencing an increase in the number of qualified candidates who are interested in sharing a full-time position with one or more anesthesiologist or CRNA. In the past, we may have said, no, it’s full-time or nothing. But now, given the shortage of qualified candidates, we’ll try to match that person up with one or two other clinicians to fill one spot.
We’ve also had to become more creative with our compensation packages. Historically, a standard full-time position for an anesthesiologist or CRNA was five days a week plus call. We have some otherwise qualified candidates now who don’t want to take call. So we have to either incentivize other members of the anesthesia services team to take additional call or build a pool of independent contractors to pick up any gaps in anesthesia coverage.
We’re also seeing less interest in anesthesiologists wanting to become partners in a practice, which means they’re less likely to take on an onerous workload in the short term in hopes of bigger financial returns later. Rather than a partnership track, they’re more interested in a long-term career track with a stable income and leadership opportunities at their sites or in professional organizations. They want to come to work, sign in, do their assigned cases for the day, and then go home and be with their families. You’re not just seeing that with anesthesiology. You’re seeing it with all medical specialties.
Interestingly, there are signs that the supply of physicians is picking up despite all the negative news about the future of medical professions. In its recently published 2015 State Physician Workforce Data Book, the Association of American Medical Colleges said the state median for active physicians per 100,000 population rose to 251 in 2014 from 244.2 in 2010. In a separate report, the AAMC said the number of medical school applicants and enrollees hit all-time highs in 2015. We’re also seeing an increase in the number of foreign medical school graduates coming to the U.S. to practice.
Still, with the demand for anesthesia services exceeding the supply of clinicians for the foreseeable future, anesthesiologists and CRNAs should continue to enjoy the career benefits that come with it.