Locum tenens doc staffing shifts from the exception to the norm

Although most hospitals rely on temporary physicians to fill coverage gaps, the practice is shifting from an anomaly to business-as-usual, a survey by the healthcare staffing firm Staff Care finds.

For five consecutive years, at least 75 percent of healthcare facility administrators said they had used temporary, or locum tenens, physicians in the previous 12 months. About 41 percent are seeking locum tenens physicians at any one time, the survey found, with the same percentage looking at the time of the survey.

About half of the facilities used one to three temporary physicians per month, with 12 percent using more and 38 percent saying they do not use them most months. 

The bulk of administrators said they most typically hire locum tenens physicians as fill-ins while they seek permanent staff, followed by fill-ins for vacationing physicians or those in continuing medical education classes.

The typical locum tenens physician works no more than six assignments per year, with 58 percent working three or fewer assignments annually, the survey found. Most cited freedom and flexibility as the main draws for taking temporary work.

A separate survey last fall by Physicians Practice found that growing numbers of doctors were seeking locum tenens jobs on the side to supplement diminishing practice income or keep a struggling practice afloat. Some also found it helped them head off burnout.

And a 2011 survey found that 10 percent of hospitalists had worked as locum tenens in contract or temporary positions during the previous year. Most said  took the work in addition to full-time employment, taking advantage of working schedules of seven days on, seven days off.

To learn more:
- download the survey

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