Tight Job Market for Radiologists? That’ll Change.

November 27, 2011

Radiology trainees are facing a particularly tight job market now, but if history is any guide, it will be a very different story in a few years, according to speakers at an RSNA 2011 session Sunday.

Radiology trainees are facing a particularly tight job market now, but if history is any guide, it will be a very different story in a few years.

“It’s a recruiter’s dream, but a trainee’s nightmare,” said Doug Maynard, MD, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, speaking at an RSNA 2011 session Sunday. “But we’ve been here before,” and in a few years, the industry will be seeking ways to end the shortage of radiologists.

The early to mid-1990s saw a surplus of radiologists in the U.S., followed a few years later in the late 90s with a shortage. That trend is happening again, said Maynard, who for the last 10 years has surveyed academic radiology chairs about vacancies. In 2001, there was an average of more than five vacancies across the more than 100 departments.

Today, there are fewer than two.

“This is close to total employment,” Maynard said, because in an academic setting positions are often in flux. “There are really no openings.”

The tough economy, healthcare finance questions, increased productivity from technology and increased residents numbers have all contributed to the tight job market, Maynard said, adding that private practice and academics mirror each other.

Gilbert Jost, MD, radiology chair at Washington University of School of Medicine in St. Louis, agreed that the situation is likely to change soon. And when it does, he’ll be ready with an incentive program his department employed between 2003 and 2008 to recruit radiologists.

Their “Forgivable Loan Program” identified the best residents in the middle of their third year of residency. Following a set of conditions, such as universal agreement among faculty about the greatness of the potential hire, the resident was offered a $120,000 loan over three years. Each year the resident was on faculty, $40,000 of the loan and interest would be forgiven.

Although his department thought the extra cash would be incentive, it turned out most recruits really were drawn to the job security and the prospect of building an academic career. And it was a successful recruiting program that resulted in about 10 enthusiastic and potentially long term faculty members.

No loans have been offered since 2008, but “chances are in three years, the situation will turn around,” Jost said.

In the future, “there will be a shortage of radiologists,” said James Borgstede MD, vice chair of radiology at University of Colorado who spend more than 27 years in private practice. “Workforce issues have always been cyclical, and we should prepare for the competition of new hires in the future.”

It’s not always going to be such an easy recruiting environment, and progressive groups will hire early to get the best graduates, he added. Indeed, regardless of the market and whether you’re entering into academics or private practice, a few fundamentals hold true, speakers said.

For example, in private practice, you must have a mission that clearly defines the practice’s priorities and which is reappraised often, said William Thorwarth, MD, FACR, of Catawba Radiology Associates in North Carolina. Know your customers and their needs and convey that information to anyone applying for an associate position.

Determine your practice culture, commitment to education and quality, expectations of staff, governance, and relationships with hospitals and physicians – for starters, he said. “Those are things the practice needs to identify amongst themselves,” Thorwarth said, “And they need to be forthcoming with people” who are applying.