In today's physician job hunt, it's a buyer's market. More than ever, hospitals need qualified doctors, and potential hires, particularly residents, are calling the shots.

Physicians in the younger generation differ significantly from their predecessors in what they want in a job. Location, lifestyle and work-life balance are bigger priorities now than they were 30 years ago, but the shift has become more pronounced in the last decade.

Since 2001, the number of residents interested in hospital-based employment has spiked from 3 to 32 percent, according to the Merritt Hawkins 2011 Final-Year Medical Resident Survey.

"It's about economic security. Residents like the safety of hospital salaries, and they appreciate someone else covering malpractice insurance," says Kurt Mosley, Merritt Hawkins vice president of strategic alliances.

As employees, physicians don't have direct responsibilities for practice management, including many of the regulatory burdens that pose significant financial constraints. Some residents also choose specialties with little on-call time, such as radiology, ophthalmology and dermatology, Mosley says.

Regardless of specialty, the survey demonstrates that health care is already feeling a crunch from a physician shortage that's expected to hit 160,000 by 2025. Looming vacancies have employers recruiting aggressively — more than half of survey respondents said they'd received more than 100 recruitment contacts during their training.

Most employers recruit via email, says Katie Imborek, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Iowa who finished her family medicine residency in April. Others are more aggressive.

"Not a day went by that we didn't receive emails about jobs," she says. "Some recruiters were more persistent — they wanted to meet with us in smaller groups. Others asked to take us to dinner one-on-one."

A growing number of hospitals and practice groups have Twitter feeds and LinkedIn groups as ways to court residents.

"Like most places, our biggest need is primary care," says Kevin Robinson, Southwestern Vermont Health Care communications director. "At the core, we need physicians to serve the entire community and increase access."

But it's more than the steady salary and low on-call time pulling residents away from private practice toward hospitals. Many institutions offer loan repayment assistance, says Joanne Conroy, chief health care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"For residents who graduate with an average of $180,000 in debt, these programs are like music to their ears," Conroy says.

Hiring a Doc? Maybe It's Time to Tweet

The rise of social media has forced job recruiters to rethink how they attract the best and the brightest. LinkedIn, Facebook and even Twitter are becoming integral parts of recruitment strategies at many hospitals.

A 2010 New England Journal of Medicine study found more than 40 percent of physicians would job-hunt through social media. The number of employers following suit is small, but the ranks are growing.

"Social media strategies won't replace traditional efforts, but as add-ons they can enhance recruitment," says Chris Boyer, digital marketing and communications director for Inova Health System in Fairfax, Va. "The key is that you have social media users among your doctors, your medical staff and your nurses."

According to experts at Georgia-based physician recruitment firm Jackson & Coker, including social media in recruiting efforts can produce a multipronged, cost-effective strategy. But they caution that each job posting be identical across platforms, and employers must take steps to eliminate any possibility for discrimination.

Inova launched its social media recruiting with a LinkedIn group that posts all jobs, and it can broaden or target searches as necessary. When recruiting specialists, however, Inova contacts individuals directly to discuss potential employment, Boyer says. To reach Twitter users, Inova will go live in December with its own Twitter feed of all open positions. Boyer recommends hospitals create RSS feeds internally for Twitter and route each job to their human resource departments. Inova also has dedicated social networking for residents. Through the free service SocialGo, residents can access resources during training, and the site transitions to help them find employment.

There are other successful online methods. In 2007, Southwestern Vermont Health Care created a microsite dedicated to finding physicians. "We had 22 openings for a staff of 140," says Kevin Robinson, communications director. "Within two months of going live, we had more than 100 applicants. We filled nearly all vacancies by fiscal year-end."

SVHC used direct mailing and contextual advertising to announce its microsite. With final-year residents as targets, Robinson says, the site lists all open jobs, offers available housing information, details popular leisure spots and restaurants, and includes information about activities.

"We included information about things residents said were important to them," Robinson adds. "And it's working. Doctors come to us because they find the quality colleagues, lifestyle, and work-life balance here."