When Will the Radiology Job Market Rebound?

August 27, 2012

There's only so much volume a radiologist can handle before fatigue sets in. Radiologists will have to accept the fact that they will need to hire more staff.

When will the radiology job market rebound?

This is perhaps the most discussed question from radiologists today with our company, Smart Physician Recruiting.

Having spent 12 years in radiology recruitment I've seen the glory days of 15 jobs open per applicant. Today, the market is very soft for candidates, particularly in certain major metro areas. The market pendulum has swung and now it's more like three to five applicants per open job. Going into 2008 radiology was a thriving specialty with imaging centers, hospitals, outpatient clinics all using imaging as a main tool to diagnose their patients’ needs.

So what happened? That's probably another blog to consider or for other bloggers to breakdown at another time. I am more concerned about where we are going for radiologists today and tomorrow.

To see the future turn around for graduating residents and fellows, we must consider the No. 1 reason jobs have dried up. Current private practice radiologists are doing more work to maintain their current income level, and as a result hiring is stagnant at many practices across the country. Statistics show us that imaging volumes are not down at hospital based practices (however several outpatient sites have seen significant declines in volume). So if volumes are not down at hospital based practices, then it equates to the current physicians doing more work than they did the year before. It's a simple economics lesson. This isn't surprising as our national economy has mirrored some of these same principles.

After the start of the Great Recession in 2008 several U.S. companies slashed staffing or froze hiring. In return they forced their staff to be more efficient, work more and tighten their fiscal budget belts. The radiology job market has applied the same principle. Radiologists have seen declining reimbursements, increased costs in equipment and demand has remained steady or increased in volumes of work to produce.

Here's the paradigm. There's only so much volume a radiologist can handle on a daily, weekly and monthly basis before fatigue (feeling burned out) sets into their lives both professionally and then personally. Technology is allowing radiologists to be extremely productive and amazingly efficient.

However burnout will eventually set in because the volume of cases continues to increase and there is a breaking point for each physician on what he or she can handle. What is the breaking point? Just check out the poll this week on Diagnostic Imaging, and it sounds like that point is coming fast for a majority of the surveyed radiologists.

Radiologists will have to accept the fact that they will need to hire more staff to alleviate the stress of the increased volumes. As a result, they will likely have to accept a declining income, which leads us to another topic for a future blog: how to accept a declining income as a result of declining reimbursement.

Patrick Moore is president of Smart Physician Recruiting.