Thursday, July 1, 2010

SURVEY: DEMAND FOR PSYCHIATRISTS PEAKING: Recession May Be Driving Need For More Mental Health Professionals

Preface - I admire the work of Merritt Hawkins and the writing of Philip Miller, its communication director. As a national physician recruiting firm, Merritt Hawkins is close to the ground and reality.

Irving, Texas
– Demand for psychiatrists is growing faster than for any other medical specialty, according to a new survey by national physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare Company.

The firm’s 2010 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives tracks over 2,800 physician recruiting assignments Merritt Hawkins conducted nationwide from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010. During that period, the company fielded 179 requests for psychiatrists, up 47 percent from the previous year and 121 percent from three years ago.

The increase in demand for psychiatrists is noteworthy, company executives say, because it is taking place during an economic recession that generally has inhibited recruiting of other types of doctors.

“When the economy goes down, mental health problems tend to go up,” notes Mark Smith, president of Merritt Hawkins. “But there is more to the rising demand for psychiatrists than the recession. A combination of factors is driving a psychiatrist shortage that could soon reach crisis levels.”

More than half of all psychiatrists are 55 years old or older and are nearing retirement age, Smith observes, while fewer medical school graduates are showing an interest in psychiatry. As the supply of psychiatrists decreases, population growth, population aging, economic challenges, and two wars are driving demand for mental health services higher. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) projects that demand for psychiatric services will increase by 19 percent from 1995 to 2020. HHS already designates 3,132 Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) nationwide for mental health, in which 80 million Americans live. This number is likely to grow significantly if steps are not taken to address the problem, Smith indicates.

“Mental health challenges facing Americans have long flown under the radar,” Smith says. “The shortage of psychiatrists may be a silent one, but it is real nonetheless.”

The Merritt Hawkins survey also suggests that traditional models of physician practice may be changing. In the past, physicians have typically worked as independent contractors who own their practices. Today, a growing number of physicians are working as hospital employees, Smith says. Of the physician searches tracked in Merritt Hawkins’ new survey, 51 percent featured settings in which hospitals employ physicians, up from 45 percent the previous year and 23 percent four years ago.

“Independent, private medical practice may be a thing of the past,” Smith observes. “Physicians are tired of the risks and hassles of owning their own shops and are choosing to work as employees.”

Complete results of Merritt Hawkins 2010 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives can be accessed at

About Merritt Hawkins

Merritt Hawkins is the largest physician search and consulting firm in the United States and is a company of AMN Healthcare, the largest healthcare staffing organization in the country.

Contact: Phillip Miller

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