From the Journals

Predicted pandemic retirement of many physicians hasn’t happened


No mass exodus seen

Michael Belkin, JD, divisional vice president of recruiting for Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm, said in an interview that the real number may be closer to the interruption-without-return figure in the JAMA study.

While many physician practices were disrupted in spring of 2020, he said, “it really didn’t result in a mass exodus [from health care]. We’re not talking to a lot of candidates who retired or walked away from their practices. We are talking to candidates who slowed down last year and then realized that they wanted to get back into medicine. And now they’re actively looking.”

One change in job candidates’ attitude, Mr. Belkin said, is that, because of COVID-19–related burnout, their quality of life is more important to them.

“They want to know, ‘What’s the culture of the employer like? What did they do last year during COVID? How did they handle it? Have they put together any protocols for the next pandemic?’ “

Demand for doctors has returned

In the summer of 2020, there was a major drop in physician recruitment by hospitals and health systems, partly because of fewer patient visits and procedures. But demand for doctors has bounced back over the past year, Mr. Belkin noted. One reason is the pent-up need for care among patients who avoided health care providers in 2020.

Another reason is that some employed doctors – particularly older physicians – have slowed down. Many doctors prefer to work remotely 1 or 2 days a week, providing telehealth visits to patients. That has led to a loss of productivity in many health care organizations and, consequently, a need to hire additional physicians.

Nevertheless, not many doctors are heading for the exit earlier than physicians did before COVID-19.

“They may work reduced hours,” Mr. Belkin said. “But the sense from a physician’s perspective is that this is all they know. For them to walk away from their life in medicine, from who they are, is problematic. So they’re continuing to practice, but at a reduced capacity.”

A version of this article first appeared on


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