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A post-COVID radiologist job market, and what you should know

 

The 2021 radiologist job market finds radiologists at the mercy of those who would hire them. The imbalance has a lot to do with a certain public health crisis, so it may prove temporary. Regardless, radiologists seeking a new challenge would be shrewd to slow down their job search at least long enough to survey the situation.

Got five minutes? I’ve got some thoughts to share.

Let’s start with what was happening when it became clear COVID-19 had changed everything.

In the last three quarters of 2020, the number of “free agents” applying for work at the largest radiology practice in the U.S. noticeably ticked up. One after the other approached the practice—yes, I’m talking about vRad—after having a job offer rescinded elsewhere.

This wave came on top of the much larger surge of job-seeking radiologists caused by the closing of imaging centers en masse. This was seen everywhere, not just here.

Graphics for E-Book (2)

Here’s the thing. After a certain point, the expanded candidate pool couldn’t be explained by plummeting exam volumes. After all, in normal times, falling volumes soon enough recover. Everyone knows this and waits out the lull. So what’s going on?

If you follow the world of investing even perfunctorily, you know that markets hate uncertainty. And the cycle of routine medical procedures getting postponed, rescheduled and postponed again has created an ebbing and flowing vortex of uncertainty.

The effect on job markets is evident throughout medicine. Absolutely no one knows when things will return to normal, if ever. If they say they know, they’re either deceiving themselves or fibbing. (True confession: At vRad, where we pride ourselves on data-driven forecasts of volume and capacity, we struggled to make projections for the start of 2021.)

 

Of frying pans and fires

These are tricky times for radiologists looking to market their skillsets to the most desirable bidder. If that’s you, I have two quick pointers to help you simplify your approach.

  1. Never change jobs just to get away from something vaguely negative. Only make a move for something decidedly positive.
  2. Explore practice models outside of the one you’ve been in. If that’s a private practice, you should look into hospital departments, academic settings or corporate physician employers. And vice versa if you’ve been in any of those.

Staying within the same model—like running away just to escape dissatisfaction—would make it highly likely that, when the new-job honeymoon phase ends, you’ll find you jumped out of a frying pan and into a fire. The names and faces will have changed. The specific causes of your discontent, probably not so much.

I regularly see this happen in all practice models. And it’s a problem for employers as well as radiologists. I’m especially empathetic with small to midsize private practices that can only give their radiologists so much leeway on work preferences, compensation structures and other HR issues. These practices’ pain over staffing during COVID is easy to see: Most of the radiologists who’ve applied at vRad due to rescinded job offers are from private practices.

In a certain sense, the sclerotic COVID job market may be doing some radiologists a favor. I’m thinking here of the private-practice refugees who’ve looked into fulltime remote reading. A practice whose business is 90% emergency reads, for one, may not initially have been on their radar. But I’ve certainly seen teleradiology reward the open-minded with plenty of job security.

A world gone ‘tele’

A final thought on the present radiologist job market. Our entire specialty was getting put to the test before the pandemic descended. From practice consolidation to radiologist burnout to the war on radiological reimbursement, a lot has been hitting us at once.

And a lot of it is here to stay in every practice model and nearly every market. So take care to shop this market now only if you’re 99% certain you won’t look back and start feeling job-changer’s remorse a year or two out.

One way you can increase your odds of avoiding that bad but avoidable scenario: Seriously consider fulltime remote reading.

I’ll bet it didn’t escape your notice that 2020 was the year tele-everything won over the world. You weren’t imagining it. A recent survey of 1,600 clinicians co-led by the American Medical Association found more than 80% believe telehealth has improved the timeliness of care for their patients. The AMA drew from this finding and others when it announced in January that it plans to press lawmakers and regulators on codifying rules governing coverage of, access to and reimbursement for telehealth.

Given all of the above, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we may be entering a golden age for fulltime remote reading. If so, the radiologist job market may not be so much roiling with uncertainty as it is adjusting to a new reality.

Either way, there’s plenty about work to contemplate. I hope these thoughts offer some clarity as you plan your post-pandemic future in radiology.

 

Teleradiology

Author Benjamin W. Strong, MD

Chief Medical Officer, Education Committee Chair. Dr. Strong is at the forefront of efforts to expand access to quality, affordable care through telemedicine. As CMO for the nation’s largest radiology practice, he collaborates with radiologist and hospital partners, uncovering opportunities to enhance the practice environment. Dr. Strong completed residency in internal medicine, then practiced emergency medicine before later being drawn to the fast-paced flow of diagnostic puzzles that is radiology.

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