Food for Thought: Turning the 2020 Lemon into 2021 Lemonade

Jan 05, 2021

The sentiment “Man Plans, God Laughs” is the perfect summary for 2020. Almost nothing we anticipated in 2020 could have been predicted, and much less of it planned for. As we gratefully kick 2020 to the curb, thoughtful assessments and hopeful 2021 predictions will inevitably abound.

I admit that I’m skeptical to add my voice to this cacophony, but I also can’t help but attempt to assess what we learned and predict what we can now look forward to. So, here are my 2-cents. If you’re ready to focus on looking ahead, though, I understand. But if you’re curious, please read on, and perhaps my thoughts will enlighten you. 

In March of 2020 the recruitment of physicians and providers, both internally and externally, came to a screeching halt. With hospitals and clinics racing to meet the demands of the pandemic, recruiters filled other critical roles while facing the need to change the way they worked.   

As the year progressed, internal recruiters got creative. They implemented video interviewing and even walked the halls with their cell phones giving candidates a look at their facility. As we ended the 3rd quarter, they began to tackle the outstanding list of open positions and found those lists were growing. That progress slammed directly into October as the 3rd and 4th wave of the virus sent us back to Level-5 threat.  

The prognosticators who claim to know, or are at least willing to predict, believe that full-speed-ahead recruiting will begin as the first quarter of 2021 ends. However, as healthcare struggles with the financial impacts of the pandemic, the already-underfunded recruiting world may be asked to do far more with less.

To further complicate the scenario, that timing will perfectly collide with two significant factors. First, 30% of physicians report they plan to either change jobs, quit or retire as their ethical commitment to the pandemic ends. The already projected physician shortage will escalate more rapidly than predicted. Second, the pent-up wave of postponed healthcare resulting from the pandemic will surge into the market as the vaccine is delivered and confidence returns. 

Externally, the pandemic decimated the physician recruiting industry. The largest and seemingly most stable traditional firms found themselves putting 90% of their searches on hold by the end of March. Profitability and revenue disappeared and employees were terminated. Recruiters with 10-15 years at the same firm found themselves unemployed. Firms owned by large national or multinational companies, who were no longer profitable, saw massive cuts. Owner-operated firms struggled to stay afloat.

As always, there were a few exceptions. Some forward-thinking organizations continued to recruit, albeit less aggressively, and kept candidates in their pipeline. The external firms who offered more digital services, varied their cost-effective options, and implemented new technology held on. Some of those firms even used the time to expand their products. Database and job boards will continue to be a resource for passive recruitment, as recruiters manually post jobs and mine databases.

In summary, 2020 propelled our industry into the world of digital transformation and streamlined workflows. It showed us new ways to work smarter and faster. As 2021 progresses and recruiters manage more with less, they will turn to technology to automate routine functions and to attract elusive candidates who are already using technology. The demand for an exceptional candidate experience will become a requirement in the competition for candidates.

Administrations, desperate for revenue, will demand candidate activity and every dollar spent will be closely monitored for ROI. Hospitals will outsource repetitive and time-consuming activities to companies with cost-effective technology solutions. Small organizations will continue to merge into larger systems. 

Anyone willing to resume recruiting in the first quarter will find themselves way ahead of the curve.

Externally, the creative, the progressive, and the most technical resources will survive. These companies are prepared to meet the demand without the need for months of ramp-up. ‘The way we’ve always done it’ will disappear.

And that is my two-cents. If you read along, I appreciate the commitment and I hope I offered some perspective. Join me in kicking 2020 out the door and boldly confronting whatever 2021 has in store.