Whether to avoid burnout or gain new skills, more doctors are opting for temporary staff jobs

Doctor burnout is at an all-time high, and many parts of the country are experiencing provider shortages. Is locum tenens—filling a temporary position in a health care setting—the answer to both problems? Doctors who work locum tenens jobs report increased flexibility, freedom over their schedules, and exposure to new techniques and perspectives that help them grow as clinicians, balance work and life, and rekindle their love of medicine. Is locum tenens right for you?

Increasing demand for doctors and employees

“In a reflection of changing practice patterns, an increasing number of hospitals, medical groups, and other health care organizations are hiring locum tenens physicians to fill gaps in care,” reported Medscape. A 2016 survey found that about 48,000 doctors work in locum tenens positions, an increase from previous years.

Of the more than 200 managers of health care facilities surveyed, 94 percent said they had employed locum tenens physicians within the past 12 months, and 47 percent were actively seeking locum tenens doctors.

While primary care doctors are the most in-demand for locum tenens positions, practitioners in other specialties are needed as well.

Locum tenens practitioners were mainly used to fill in until permanent doctors were found in certain specialties. While primary care doctors are the most in-demand for locum tenens positions, practitioners in other specialties are needed as well. Physician staffing firms like LocumTenens.com and Staff Care list hundreds of temporary job openings in numerous specialties in nearly every state. The trend toward employed versus independent doctors is also increasing the demand for physician jobs.

For more on this topic, see Employed vs. Independent Doctors: Who is Better Off?

Why locum tenens appeals to doctors

Locum tenens work is becoming more appealing to doctors as well as health care organizations. In a 2016 survey by the Physicians Foundation, more than 11 percent of doctors said they planned to take locum tenens assignments, a number that would be nearly double the 6 percent of doctors who currently work in locum tenens positions, according to Medscape.

Locum tenens appeals to doctors seeking to semi-retire, those wanting to avoid burnout, and also those seeking new skills and opportunities.

There are a few different reasons for locum tenens’ growth. “This practice style typically is adopted by older physicians seeking to semi-retire,” noted the Physicians Foundation. However, some younger physicians are turning to locum tenens to avoid burnout and renew their love of medicine.

“Around the time I burned out and parted ways with my hospital, I began looking for something to help me find the spark again. One option that stood out to me was locum tenens,” wrote neurologist Madeleine Geraghty, M.D., in an article for Becker’s Hospital Review.

She found that working in new places helped her regain work-life balance and her enthusiasm for medicine, while also preparing her for new opportunities. One of her locum tenens positions led to a permanent job—though she still works locum tenens occasionally when a hospital needs coverage for a day or two.

The answer to doctor burnout?

Dr. Geraghty has discovered that her “random multi-day blocks of locum tenens time” suit her lifestyle. “My two kids are at an age where they really need their mom, and that is where working locum tenens has had the biggest impact in my personal life,” she wrote. “Even though I travel more, I am actually ‘gone’ less. When I am with my family, I am there, in the present, and not halfway at work like I have been in the past.”

Nearly half of doctors surveyed said that having a flexible schedule was a key reason for working locum tenens.

She’s not the only one. LocumTenens.com found that in a survey of more than 500 doctors, 48 percent said the chance to have a flexible schedule was a key reason for working short-term positions. Other reasons included travel opportunities (38 percent); the ability to earn extra income (35 percent); and gaining clinical experience (34 percent).

According to a 2017 Staff Care survey, payment rates for locum tenens doctors can range from several hundred dollars to more than $2,000 per day. Locum tenens providers are considered independent contractors; a staffing company typically pays their daily rate, while covering malpractice, transportation, and accommodation costs.

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