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2012 Healthcare Hiring Outlook

2012 Healthcare Hiring Outlook

What’s more complicated than a multi-organ transplant? 2012 healthcare recruitment, the labor market and the requirements that healthcare hiring will place on healthcare providers in nearly every care setting.

That’s the consensus of executives, recruiters and researchers as the healthcare industry weathers waves of change.

The forces at work will range from healthcare reform, to HITECH hiring, to variations in the supply of newly minted clinicians, to lingering effects of the great recession and a demographic revolution to beat all.

We spoke to a variety of stakeholders to come up with a short list of the most important factors in the healthcare hiring environment for 2012.

Extra credit goes to those recruiters who can predict the effects of a presidential election and an historic Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Healthcare reform will boost demand for certain occupations
Despite the uncertainties created by legal challenges to the ACA, healthcare reform will continue to substantially reshape the healthcare labor market — and create jobs. 

Doctors, nurses, therapy specialists, other clinicians and allied health workers will change jobs, as hospitals stake out new territory, while providers in other care settings staff up to compete for patients.

Case manager is one occupation that will be in increased demand as providers align themselves with the quality-of-care carrots and sticks of ACA.

“Though there are a lot of nurses and social workers, there are not enough well-trained case managers,” says Eric Rackow, M.D., CEO of SeniorBridge, a provider home of healthcare services in New York City.

Uncertainty over fate of PPACA will delay some healthcare hiring
Still, a June 2012 Supreme Court decision looms on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and that cloudy prospect will continue to put the chill on some hiring. 

“Managers may be holding up positions until healthcare reform becomes clearer,” says John Culbertson, director of research at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.

Renewed demand, re-retirements will take up slack from recession
A recession powerful enough to create slack in demand for nurses and other shortage-prone clinical professions came as a total surprise to most in the industry.

And as that recession knocked the stuffing out of millions of 401(k)s, many healthcare professionals, especially RNs, either delayed the end of their careers or rescinded recent retirements to shore up their personal finances. 

Many of these clinicians are finally deciding to retire or re-retire. This drain on supply will make nurse recruitment for experienced healthcare professionals more challenging in 2012.

Scarcity of primary care physicians will jump
Primary care physicians, even as their work-life balance improves in large group practices, are harder and harder to come by. Fewer young MDs are willing to take on the long hours, on-call duty and relatively modest compensation of the role.

“General practitioners will continue in huge demand,” says Eric Dickerson, senior practice leader of the academic physician practice at recruiter Kaye/Bassman International in Dallas.

“Fewer and fewer PCPs have been trained over the past decade, so that will continue to be a gaping hole.” And nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be highly sought after for their ability to practice everyday medicine at lower cost.

Some low-paying jobs will require intensive recruitment
You might think that with a stubbornly-high unemployment rate, low-skilled allied health jobs would be easy (and cheap) to fill. Not necessarily.

“Getting interest in being a caregiver isn’t difficult,” says Emma Dickison, president of Home Helpers, a franchisor of home care agencies. “The challenge is to find the right fit; we hire just 10 to 20 percent of applicants.”

Adding to the expense of recruiting for these roles are criminal record checks and other background screening.

The trouble with relocation: Millions will stay chained to oversized mortgages
Given that housing prices are projected to remain weak into 2012, the problem of candidates who can’t afford to relocate will persist.

“We can get candidates to change employers in a local market, but we’re not seeing nearly the numbers we’d like willing to move from one market to another,” says Mark Dixon, president of USr Healthcare, a staffing firm in Brentwood, Tennessee. “That changed when people’s homes went underwater.”

Demand and supply: Demographics will have the last word
The biggest story line for healthcare hiring in 2012 is the oldest: aging Americans will increase the demand for services while an aging workforce will put further stress on the supply of clinicians.

No healthcare profession will feel this strain more than physical therapists.

“The demand for PTs is increasing as the number of uninsured decreases and the population ages,” says Marc Goldstein, senior director of research at the American Physical Therapy Association.