Thanks in part to the growing popularity of locum tenens among providers and employers alike (see 2015 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends), physician moonlighting seems to be more prevalent than ever. Today's physicians are choosing to work moonlighting jobs for a number of reasons. Chief among them is financial, with new and mid-career physicians working extra shifts to pay off medical school debt or just to generate more income.
It's not only for the money, though. Some physicians moonlight to provide variety in their career, to gain experience in new settings, to experience new challenges, to teach and to volunteer. And for many of these goals, locum tenens assignments offer convenient solutions, offering a source of income that's flexible and temporary.
Locum Tenens & Other Types of Physician Moonlighting
Tammy Worth of Today's Hospitalist describes a common type of moonlighting among hospitalists: physicians who take assignments in other sections of the hospitals where they work.
Many employers promote this practice of in-hospital physician moonlighting, which helps administrators "solve major scheduling challenges," Worth explains. Some healthcare employers also employ (outside or inside) moonlighting physicians for seasonal jobs, or to fulfill specific lower-need tasks such as performing SSA disability evaluations.
Locum tenens assignments are a popular option for physicians seeking part-time work, but who lack the option of extra shifts at their place of permanent employment. Usually just a few months in duration, locum tenens assignments are a means for physicians to fill in at hospitals that need additional workers when their full-time team is absent or overworked, or during times of seasonal fluctuation or employee transition.
The appeal of locum tenens jobs to moonlight physicians lies in their flexibility and impermanence. If an assignment turns out to be something other than what you expected, you can simply move on when that assignment is over. There are no long-term effects for taking on what may turn out to be a less than ideal position.
Why Physicians Moonlight
"Defying the notion that it is mostly young, debt-ridden residents who moonlight for extra income, the age group" of physicians "most likely to have a secondary income" is the 50 to 54 group, "followed closely by 45 to 49, 55 to 59, and 60 to 64," writes Beth Thomas Hertz in Medical Economics.
Indeed, the large percentage of physicians choosing to moonlight in recent years is its own indication that the trend defies age groups. Medical Economics broke down the numbers of how many physicians by specialty reported earning income from "sources other than their primary practice/employer in 2012" as follows:
- 40% of hospitalists
- 38% of cardiologists
- 36% of family medicine/general practitioners
- 35% of internists
- 27% of gastroenterologists
- 25% of pediatricians
The survey also found that "physicians in rural areas are slightly more likely to earn secondary incomes," attributing that statistic to the fact that some "sparsely-populated areas do not have enough patients to fill a schedule or enough medical professionals to cover all the jobs that need to be done."
Plus, some healthcare schedules promote moonlighting more than others. Some physicians "who work full-time in seven-on/seven-off jobs say they fight off boredom during their weeks off by taking on an extra shift or two," Worth writes.
“When I have a whole week off, unless I am doing something important, I just get bored sitting at home,” K.J. Rehman, MD told Worth. “Besides, the ER gives me exposure to emergency medicine and surgery. There are more surprises in the ER.” Dr. Rehman estimates that at least 50% of the hospitalists in his group moonlight somewhat regularly.
“When you work in a hospital, your clinical skills tend to atrophy a bit,” Mary Frances Barthel, MD, hospitalist program medical director, told Worth. "There’s value in maintaining a little bit of those outpatient skills even if you aren’t going to focus on that part of your career.”
“A day in the clinic has its own pace and demands," Kristen Dillon, MD told Hertz. "Doing other things is a nice change from back-to-back patient encounters and gives me flexibility. It’s a good match for me.
"The income, of course, doesn’t hurt either.”
Are you seeking locum tenens assignments as moonlighting opportunities? Find the latest locum tenens jobs in your area here. We also invite you to share your moonlighting stories in the comments, or with the Staff Care community on Facebook and Twitter.