Physician Staffing Blog

Healthcare News and Trends

Merritt Hawkins Releases Annual Review of Physician And Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives

July 21, 2021

Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives

By Phillip Miller, VP at Merritt Hawkins

Every year for the last 28 years, Merritt Hawkins has released a report tracking the starting salaries and other incentives that hospitals, medical groups, and other healthcare facilities offer when recruiting physicians and advanced practice professionals. This report now is widely referenced by healthcare executives, physicians and members of the media who follow trends in physician compensation, supply and demand.

We have just released our 2021 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives which includes a number of notable findings. The Review indicates that over the previous 12 months, Merritt Hawkins conducted more search engagements for nurse practitioners (NPs) than for any other type of provider. In the 27 prior years the report was conducted, physicians held the top spot. For the previous 14 years, the number one position was held by family practitioners. The report clearly indicates that NPs are coming into their own in a market that puts a premium on access to care and cost containment.

NPs are being used to staff a growing number of urgent care centers and outpatient clinics that offer convenient access to care.  They also are being recruited to provide telemedicine services that feature direct access to care givers. Younger patients, in particular, are foregoing visits to traditional, office-based primary care physicians in favor of more convenient settings, Merritt Hawkins’ Review indicates, softening demand for primary care physicians.

Though primary care physicians are still a vital part of team-based care and will be increasingly responsible for coordinating the care of older patients with multiple chronic conditions, they are not being recruited at the frenzied pace of a few years ago.

Older Population Driving Need for Specialists

While family physicians were second on Merritt Hawkins’ list of most recruited providers, primary care physicians comprised only 18% of the firm’s search engagements over the last 12 months, compared to 20% the prior year and 22% two years ago. By contrast, specialist physicians comprised 64% of the firm’s search engagements over the previous 12 months, while advanced practitioners, including NPs, physician assistants (PAs) and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) comprised 18%, up from 13% the previous year. With more than 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, a growing number of older patients require the services of specialists to treat aging organ systems, bones and brains.

Starting Salaries Decrease

Covid-19 suppressed utilization of physician services and caused many healthcare facilities to discontinue or delay physician recruiting. As a result of reduced demand, starting salaries tracked in the Review decreased for many types of providers.  Both NPs and PAs were an exception, however. The average starting salary for NPs as tracked in the report was $140,000, a 12% year-over-year increase, while the average starting salary for PAs was $128,000, a 14% increase. The highest average starting salary for physicians as tracked in the report was $611,000 for interventional cardiologists, while the lowest was $236,000 for pediatricians.

To obtain a copy of Merritt Hawkins’ 2021 Review of Physicians and Advance Practitioner Recruiting Incentives, you can download it here.

Phillip Miller is Vice President of Communications for Merritt Hawkins and Staff Care. He can be contacted at


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