Why Physicians Choose Locum Tenens, and Why Employers Need Them

Why Physicians Choose Locum Tenens

When Staff Care put together the results of this year’s survey on temporary physician staffing trends, even we were a little surprised at the statistical change from past surveys. Following the decline in overall demand in 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, the use of locum tenens had bounced back significantly, and several indicators show that the trend should continue.

Among the hospital and medical group managers that we polled in 2010 (and finished compiling earlier this year), 85 percent indicated that their facilities had used temporary physicians at some point in the past 12 months — up from 72 percent the previous year.

An overall growth in demand for physicians has been propelled by the economic recovery and healthcare reform, and hospitals are having difficulty getting those positions filled as quickly as they would like. Using temporary physicians until a permanent physician can be brought on board has become a popular solution, and the number one reason listed by healthcare organizations for using locum tenens.

Employers’ Top Reasons for Staffing Locum Tenens

Historically, locum tenens doctors were used to hold a place for ill, vacationing or otherwise absent physicians pending their return. More recently, however, physician shortages have prompted hospitals, medical groups and others to use temporary doctors to maintain services in lieu of permanent doctors. These experienced physicians allow them to maintain continuity of patient care and their current revenue streams.

Here is a look at the top reasons given for using locum tenens over the last few years (note that healthcare employers could include more than one answer):

Typical Reason for Using Locum Tenens:

To fill in until a permanent doctor is found:
  • 2005: 72%
  • 2007: 65%
  • 2009: 34%
  • 2010: 63%
To fill in for doctor on vacation/doing CME:
  • 2005: 50%
  • 2007: 50%
  • 2009: 37%
  • 2010: 53%
To fill in for staff who have left:
  • 2005: 71%
  • 2007: 61%
  • 2009: 22%
  • 2010: 46%
To meet rising patient demand:
  • 2005: 16%
  • 2007: 16%
  • 2009: 3%
  • 2010: 9%
To fill in during peak times:
  • 2005: 31%
  • 2007: 15%
  • 2009: 11%
  • 2010: 4%
To test market a new service:
  • 2005: 4%
  • 2007: 3%
  • 2009: 25%
  • 2010: 0%

The Most In-Demand Physician Specialties

The latest survey also tracked which types of physicians were in the most demand as temporary practitioners, based on requests received by Staff Care in 2010.  The demand for the top category, mental health services, increased significantly from 16 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010, caused in part by population growth, patient aging and the emotional repercussions of the economic recession and the country’s continued involvement in overseas conflicts.

The top 10 specialties based on “days requested” for locum tenens included:

  1. Psychiatrists and other behavioral health specialists: 22%
  2. Primary care physicians: 20%
  3. Internal medicine subspecialists: 12%
  4. Anesthesia providers, including anesthesiologists and CRNAs: 11%
  5. Hospitalists: 9%
  6. Surgeons: 7%
  7. Radiologists: 7%
  8. Emergency medicine physicians: 4%
  9. Dentists: 4%
  10. Oncologists: 2%

Physicians’ Top Reasons for Choosing Locum Tenens Work

The second part of this year’s survey focused on the physicians themselves, including why they choose locum tenens practice and what their experiences have been on assignments. The results show that their career choices are based on practice and lifestyle preferences, more than economic considerations.

The physicians’ top reasons for choosing the locum life (again, multiple answers were possible):

  1. Freedom and flexibility: 82%
  2. Absence of medical politics: 48%
  3. Ability to travel: 44%
  4. Professional development: 21%
  5. A way to find permanent practice opportunities: 20%
  6. Pay rate: 16%

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed have long careers in medicine, with 68 percent serving 21 years or more in professional practice. But a significant number of locum tenens doctors are relatively new to temporary medical practice; it appears that the ranks of locum tenens doctors continue to be replenished and expanded by physicians who are new to the field.

Full Results Available

These are just a few of the key statistics we tracked in our latest Staff Care survey. We also gathered profiles on locum tenens physicians and their work assignments, and asked about the benefits of locum tenens from both the employers’ and candidates’ perspectives.

For a look at all the statistics, key findings and insights into the trends in locum tenens — from both sides of the employment equation — you can download the complete results of Staff Care’s 2011 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends.

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