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6 Reasons Why Radiology Jobs Will Bounce Back After COVID-19

June 11, 2020 -- COVID-19 has momentously impacted the world in many ways. Concerns with safety and health are at the forefront of everyone's mind, and many are worried about the pandemic's impact on the economy. Healthcare in general is suffering, and imaging specifically has been decidedly obstructed as demand for nonemergent imaging has plummeted.

My firm, Radiology Business Solutions (RBS), provides professional management services and ongoing consulting for 11 private practices with close to 200 radiologists across the U.S. Like most private radiology practices, our groups experienced an average of 50% or more decline in volume during the initial phases of the pandemic.

As of this date, some locations, but not all, are emerging from the decline. There is genuine speculation as to what will happen with future volumes and radiologist staffing.

I recently read an article concerning the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on the field of radiology. The article speculated that radiologist recruitment for residency programs would be challenging for years to come due to a "protracted period of social distancing and shuttering of the economy," comparing this time to the 2008 market crash.

The article states, "Reasons for the radiology recruitment downturn in 2009 ... included uncertainty surrounding the specialty's business model after passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare cuts to imaging revenue, and the recession's impact on the radiology job market."

While the ACA and Medicare cuts certainly caused uncertainty in the field, it is not clear these worries meaningfully impacted medical students in choosing radiology residency paths. Beyond uncertainty, the overriding factor impacting radiology residency applications at the time was a lack of jobs.

The reduced radiology recruitment experienced in the 2009 financial recession is more likely due to senior radiologists holding off retirement due to losses in the financial markets than to the financial impact of the ACA or cuts to imaging revenue.

After the passage of the ACA, there was a decrease in imaging volume that reflected the emphasis on "reasonable use and utilization of imaging" in the act's policies. Although volumes declined to some extent for several years, they never dropped precipitously and have since rebounded to prior levels of growth.

This recovery was due to the aging baby-boomer population and continued security of imaging from the emergency department and other primary care physicians. Volumes had been growing at a 5% average annual rate across our practice sites up until COVID-19 restricted access to most imaging.

This volume growth, in addition to the steadily growing economy, has led to a noticeable increase in radiologist retirements. Productive senior radiologist retirements, plus increased volume, resulted in the 1,000+ job openings reflected on the American College of Radiology (ACR) Career Center for more than two years.

It is our opinion that COVID-19 has put temporary brakes on the economy and imaging volume. It may, like the 2008 market crash, delay the retirement of senior (productive) radiologists.

The true impact of COVID-19 will not be known until the healthcare system opens to full capacity and settles with a new normal, but we can make some educated assumptions:

  • There is still and always will be a great need for imaging in the healthcare marketplace. People don't stop needing imaging because they are quarantined at home. Once people are unrestricted, volumes will come back to radiology fast and hard. An untold volume of pathology, illness, and disease currently needs diagnosis and treatment.

  • Thoughtful radiology groups accessed the grants and loans from the U.S. Department of