There was a time when locum tenens was the career swan song of older physicians. A locums assignment was a way for a semiretired, 60-year-old emergency medicine physician from Crystal, Minnesota to ditch a frigid winter in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and spend January through April working in sunny southern California – easing out of a practice and into retirement (and golfing and bird watching).
There’s still some truth to that scenario, but while retired and semiretired doctors still work locum tenens they no longer represent the majority of locum physicians. Now, doctors of all ages and career phases are working as locum tenens.
Between 2012 and 2014, the percentage of clinicians aged 61 years or older who practice as locum tenens decreased by 9.5%, according to a recent industry survey. Meanwhile, the percentage of clinicians aged 40 years or younger working in temporary assignments doubled (from 6.9% to 14%). At the same time, more physicians are entering locum tenens work as a midcareer move.
Doximity recently examined physician interest in locum tenens within its professional social network based on interactions with career opportunities and employers. We published our six surprising findings about physicians interested in locum tenens earlier, but one thing that stood out to us was the age of physicians interested in locums. Namely, while younger physicians show a preponderance of interest in locum assignments, older physicians actually replied to locum opportunities most often. Despite a high interest from younger physicians, the older population of physicians is also more likely to be working in a locum tenens assignment.
It’s true that more and more physicians are trying locums right out of training. These young physicians want to experience different practice settings – and even different parts of the country – before they settle into a permanent position. Proof that these younger doctors are indeed kicking the tires: the percentage of physicians who took a locum tenens job fresh out of residency training rose from 14.3% in 2012 to 21% in 2014.
There’s a shortage of doctors in America at the same time there’s a growing demand for them.
The increasing interest in locum tenens by physicians of all ages presents a positive trend. Crediting full implementation of the Affordable Care Act combined with our aging population the Association of American Medical Colleges says that physician demand will exceed supply by up to 90,000 by the year 2025.
Can locum tenens doctors help fill the gap? Increasingly more physicians think so: 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. The Physician Foundation says that 46% of doctors will change their practice styles within three years and 9% plan to work as locum physicians.
The road to working locum tenens is different for every physician. Overall, locum tenens work can provide the kind of practice freedom that many physicians crave. Though some doctors work locum tenens in place of a full-time position, the majority of physicians work as locum tenens in addition to a full-time job, as a stopgap between permanent jobs, or as a way to transition from full-time practice into retirement.
Locum tenens represent about 6 percent of the physician workforce today.
Last year 40,000 physicians worked in U.S. locum tenens positions and more than 90 percent of hospitals and other facilities use locum tenens physicians to fill positions. In fact, the locum tenens staffing has become a $2.4 billion industry.
Locum tenens ensures more people see a doctor and receive healthcare, offsetting the physician shortages – especially in underserved areas. This unique practice option can be a fulfilling practice experience for physicians. Locum tenens physicians will help solve the challenges facing hospitals and millions of patients across the country for decades to come, and physician recruiters are a vital part of this quickly growing industry.
If you're not using Doximity Talent Finder to source great physician candidates for your full-time and locum tenens opportunities, schedule a free demo today.