With surgeon shortage, hospitals hire temps

In recent times, we've told you about shortages in a number of medical specialties, including primary care and gastroenterology. Unfortunately, those two are not the only specialties whose numbers are shrinking. Of late, general surgeons have started leaving their practices--and often, are going to work as temps instead.

Over the past 25 years, the number of general surgeons per capita has fallen 25 percent, according to a study published in the Archives of Surgery recently. With reimbursement for many surgical procedures falling, general surgeons are earning relatively low pay and struggling to carry high practice overhead. Aware of this problem, many physician-trainees are focusing on subspecialties that pay better.

However, locum tenens work seems to offer general surgeons much better options. As temps, general surgeons can focus on the work they love and often, make far more money doing it. Today, at least one in 20 of approximately 17,000 general surgeons works on a temporary basis, either part or full-time. Full-timers can make $250,000 or more a year, or twice what they might make in private practice.

Hospitals who hire locum tenens general surgeons, however, must brace themselves for some significant costs. Such surgeons cost $1,500 a day, or $650 to $900 for the physician and roughly the same for the staffing agency, plus the physician's travel and lodging expenses, according to temporary medical placement firm Staff Care. Larger hospitals can see millions sapped from the bottom line if they need multiple locum tenens general surgeons, say, to keep their emergency department running.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)

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