New Survey Finds Medical Residents Have ‘Buyer’s Remorse’

October 25, 2011 - For medical residents about to complete their training, it appears that now is both the best of times and the worst of times to be entering the job market.

Merritt Hawkins’ 2011 Survey of Final-Year Medical Residents found that more than 75 percent of final-year medical residents received at least 50 job solicitations during the course of their training. Close to one half (47 percent) received 100 or more job solicitations. Newly trained physicians are the objects of such intense recruiting activity that the American Medical Association felt it necessary to send a letter to physician recruiting firms nationwide asking them not to contact residents during working hours. In an economy where job opportunities for many people are few and far between, medical residents appear to be in a favorable position.

Nevertheless, Merritt Hawkins’ survey also found that close to one-third of final-year residents (29 percent) would not choose medicine as their profession if they could have a career “do-over.” At first glance, this appears to reflect a surprisingly high level of buyer’s remorse among newly trained doctors who, after all, have multiple job opportunities to choose from and comparatively high salaries to look forward to.

On closer inspection, however, the concerns of doctors about to enter their first practices are not so unreasonable. Final-year residents are at the end of a grueling, three to seven year period during which they worked double a full-time job (80 hour weeks are typical) and were under extreme stress. Many are carrying a debt load of $160,000 or more while being paid in the $50,000 range, a rate of about $12.50 an hour. They also are about to enter their profession at a time when the healthcare system is undergoing profound change and uncertainty and when physicians are facing severe reimbursement cuts. Little wonder if, upon crossing the finish line, they might question whether the race was worth the effort.

Hospitals, medical groups and other facilities recruiting residents should take into account the concerns and expectations of new physicians, many of which are revealed in this survey (visit www.merritthawkins.com to request a copy). As the survey indicates, residents often make their choice of a first practice based on geographic location. This is not always the best basis for practice selection. Long-term satisfaction for residents (and for all physicians) is more likely to be tied to the compatibility and appropriateness of their practice than to the community in which they live.

Unfortunately, residents often are not equipped to assess practice opportunities because they have received little to no training in the business side of medicine. Only 9 percent of residents surveyed said they were “very prepared” to handle the business aspects of medicine, including contract evaluation and other skills necessary to assess a job opportunity. Recruiting residents therefore entails considerable front-end preparation and education regarding how physicians are compensated, how they are incentivized, and what constitutes a viable practice.

Part of this process includes informing residents about the current proliferation of physician practice models, including ACOs, medical homes, hospital employment, concierge practices, part-time arrangements, locum tenens and other options. Unlike more experienced physicians, residents may have little basis for comparison when it comes to practice styles, so extra effort is required to ensure they select a practice that fits their needs and expectations. When an appropriate match is made, however, residents are likely to find that, as challenging as medicine can be, it is well worth the effort.


Mark E. Smith is president of Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s largest physician search and consulting firm and a company of AMN Healthcare. He can be reached at mark.smith@amnhealthcare.com