Placeholders, free agents, locum tenens…no matter the name, a physician filling in for another physician has been a common practice (and a professional courtesy) for a long time. Physicians retire, resign, and get fired; physicians need vacation and personal time, as well as maternity and sick leave, too.
Of course, staffing shortages are the norm these days and physician turnover creates a huge expense. Regardless of why or how a physician vacancy exists, healthcare facilities have to maintain patient care quality—so they regularly hire part-time or temporary locum tenens physicians to fill the gap.
Why do physicians want to work in temporary assignments?
Early on, the locum tenens industry was paved by doctors who were retired (or semi-retired) but weren’t ready to hang up practicing medicine altogether. These days, physicians at all career levels cite good reasons to work in temporary assignments. A more defined or flexible work schedule (which is really great for physicians with young children at home); physicians who are entrepreneurs can dabble in other areas but keep practicing medicine; a change of scenery and a change of pace come with the territory (and are a good way to counter physician burnout); and the list goes on.
Younger physicians are working in locum tenens assignments now, too.
In an annual survey by Staff Care (a sister company to Merritt Hawkins), 21% said they began working as locum tenens right after completing their training. And why not? It’s natural for newly trained doctors to want to kick some tires and try out a few practices before they make a big decision about a long-term job. They’ve also been in training for years and years, and a temporary assignment allows them to pick and choose hours and even travel if they want.
Thanks to an aging population and full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Association of American Medical Colleges expects that by 2025 physician demand will exceed supply by a range of 46,000 to 90,000. Can locum tenens doctors help fill the gap? Increasingly more physicians think so. In the same survey, almost 16% of clinicians say they intend to work in a locum tenens capacity for 11 years or more, while 9% intend to pursue locum tenens work as a career. In certain specialties, physicians can write their own ticket in the temporary world.
Former Kansas State Health Director and columnist for the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS), Howard Rodenberg, MD MPH, wrote about his own locum tenens or “Rent-A-Doc” adventures on his blog. Although it turns out it wasn't really for him, his locum tenens experience was nice for his ego: “As one of a relative handful of residency-trained, board-certified emergency physicians I’m fortunate to be a relatively hot commodity. This is why, after posting my resume online a few months ago, I had forty-three different recruiters from thirty-one different agencies (believe me, I counted) all vying to be my new best friend.”
The medical profession is full of uncertainty and “filling in” may be a new way of life for physicians seeking a flexible and higher paying lifestyle.
Your candidates are likely to ask about locum tenens positions and employers are likely to recruit temporary physicians. Of course, the industry is full of politics. Val Jones, MD, wrote a detailed (and frankly honest) guide to locum tenens physicians as we know it now on Kevin MD that generated a nice, interdisciplinary discussion about temporary work that recruiters, recruiting agencies, and physicians alike will find helpful. What’s your take? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.