Locum Tenens (Latin for “to hold the place of”) is a temporary work assignment for a physician. The reasons for considering locum tenens work can vary as widely as the physicians considering it. Perhaps you’re a new physician and you want to try out several positions to help you decide on a long-term job. Perhaps the idea of committing to a practice or hospital full time doesn’t appeal to your sense of freedom and adventure. Maybe you’re a mom and you want to be able to spend more time at home. Or, you’re a retired (or semi-retired) physician not quite ready to hang up the stethoscope.
The good news is that there is no shortage of locum tenens work for physicians. According to The Association of American Medical Colleges, the advancing age of the American population will create a demand for physicians that will exceed the supply by 91,000 by the year 2020. This deficit will grow to 131,000 by 2025 because the supply of physicians has remained flat over the last 20 years. A 2015 Staff Care Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends reports that 91% of healthcare facilities used locum tenens physicians. Seventy three percent of healthcare facility managers said they use at least one locum tenens physician a month while 18% reported using four or more.
A primary care physician has a per-diem rate of $600-$800 daily and can make approximately $150,000 a year, slightly less than an employed physician. Locum tenens salary is dependent, of course, on how often a physician is working assignments. Most assignments last a couple of weeks, while some can last up to a year. “Some locations have a hard time finding permanent primary care doctors and rely on locum tenens help, which can take some time,” says Sean Ebner, President of Staff Care. Sixty-eight percent of healthcare facility managers typically use locum tenens physicians to fill in until a permanent doctor is found while 67% use them to fill in for staff who have left.
Today, more physicians are making locum tenens their full-time employment. Staff Care estimates that fewer than 50% of physicians remain in private practice. Most locum tenens physicians have worked in a permanent practice, but over 7% have indicated they have only ever worked on a locum tenens basis. Twenty-one percent of physicians begin working locum tenens directly after completing their residencies and that number of younger physicians is increasing. Many physicians have become disenchanted with the “business” of medicine and have opted to become temporary staff on a full-time basis. The top reported benefits to working locum tenens include flexibility (85%), pay rate (53%), and “no politics” (51%).
Janice Boughton, MD left her private practice to become a locum tenens physician and wrote of her experience on the medical social media blog Kevin MD. Having worked in several states including Alaska, she discusses selecting an agency (Staff Care is one of them), the application and screening processes and the ups and downs of locum tenens work. The experience for her was a positive one, but it is not for everyone.
Howard Rodenberg, MD MPH, columnist for the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, wrote about his locum tenens experience on his blog Writing with Scissors. While locum tenens wasn’t for him, he notes it was great for his ego. He discusses the great demand for his experience from numerous agencies vying to place him during his locum tenens stint.
The fact is, all specialties are in high demand for locum tenens work. For those interested in higher pay with work flexibility, locum tenens may become the rule rather than the exception.
There are several staffing companies specializing in locum tenens staffing for physicians. The following is a list of companies that can discuss in depth why locum tenens may be right for you and match you up with the most appropriate assignments: Staff Care, CompHealth, Weatherby, Aerotek, Vista Staffing Solutions, Medical Doctor Associates, Mary Kraft Staffing, Delta Healthcare Providers, Hayes Staffing