Whether Working as a Locum Tenens Physician is Right for You

June 11, 2012

The doc shortage is creating opportunities for physicians who are willing to explore alternative career options.

While the physician shortage has many drawbacks, it also presents some opportunities for physicians who are willing to consider alternative career options.

In a recent survey conducted by physician staffing company Staff Care, 41 percent of administrators at hospitals, medical groups, and other healthcare facilities said they are currently looking for temporary physicians, also known as locum tenens. Seventy five percent said they used temporary physicians at some point in the past year.

Survey respondents said they are struggling to find the permanent physicians they need and are relying on temporary physicians to fill in the gaps.

“The survey shows that the use of locum tenens physicians now is a customary and accepted practice,” Bonnie Owens, vice president of Staff Care, told Physicians Practice via e-mail. “… It’s rare today to find a hospital or larger medical group that does not use locum tenens physicians from time to time.”

Here’s how to determine if locum tenens is right for you:

• If you’re looking for variety and you are adaptable. Most locum tenens physicians work one to three assignments per year, 22 percent work four to six assignments, and 20 percent work seven or more assignments. As a result, they experience a wide range of practice environments.

• If you’re looking to reduce the “hassle factors” that come with traditional medical practice. Since locum tenens physicians are paid by a staffing firm or directly by the facility in which they are working, they don’t need to worry about reimbursement and all the burdens that come with it. They are also not tied to production formulas, such as RVUs and they don’t need to worry about administrative hassles.

That means they can focus solely on patient care, said Owens. “Basically, you show up and see patients.”

• If you love to travel. Locum tenens may be your ticket to exploring the country.

• If you like to meet new people. Don’t be scared off by fears that physicians and patients won’t accept you if you work with them on a temporary basis. Ninety-seven percent of respondents said they are accepted by patients; 84 percent said they are accepted by physician colleagues.

• Benefits and Pay considerations. Locum tenens doctors earn anywhere from a few hundred dollars a day to more than $1,000 a day, depending on their specialty and hours worked, according to a Staff Care report, which accompanied the survey. Full-time locum tenens physicians willing to put in some overtime hours can earn approximately what a permanent physician earns.

Keep in mind that locum tenens physicians are independent contractors and must provide their own health and other benefits, noted Owens.

Here’s a look at the locum tenens employment outlook by physician specialty:

• Twenty percent of the temporary positions Staff Care was asked to fill in the last year were for primary-care doctors
• Nineteen percent for behavioral care providers
• Sixteen percent for anesthesia providers
• Ten percent for hospitalists
• Eight percent for surgeons

If you are interested in learning more about locum tenens, there are various resources on the Internet and through companies like Staff Care. Owens also recommends speaking to your colleagues who have locum tenens experience.

Would you ever consider working as a temporary physician? Why or why not.