Freedom, flexibility, decreased bureaucracy are fueling the trend, with 94 percent of facilities saying they used them in 2016, Staff Care says.


Hospitals and healthcare facilities are increasingly looking to temporary physicians, also known as locum tenens, to fill staffing gaps. That’s according to a new survey conducted by Staff Care, a temporary physician staffing firm and a company of AMN Healthcare.

Results from their 2017 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends shows 94 percent of hospitals, medical groups, and other healthcare facilities used temporary physicians in 2016, a three percent increase over 2014 and a 20 percent increase from 2012. These doctors are stepping in mostly to maintain services while providers try to add permanent staff or fill openings that come up due to turnover, Staff Care said.

Locum tenens is latin for “take the place of.”

“Virtually every hospital in the United States now uses locum tenens doctors,” said Sean Ebner, president of Staff Care. “They are emerging as a key part of the medical workforce in an era of physician shortages and evolving delivery models.”

One force fueling this trend is that the hospital-employed physician model is eclipsing physician practice ownership. With the newer model of hospital employment, physicians have more chances to change jobs, which creates more job openings and the need for fill-in physicians. Employed physicians also typically get a month of vacation time, as well as continuing education time, which also creates the need for temporary staff, Staff Care said.

The agency also pointed to increased job flexibility as a reason why doctors do temporary work. They surveyed 900 physicians who work as locum tenens, with the majority of them saying they work one and three temporary assignments per year. Of those surveyed, 75 percent are 51 years old or older, and 43 percent have permanent jobs but still do temp work on the side. 89 percent say “freedom and flexibility” are the main benefits of this temporary work.

Finally, older physicians look at temporary work as a way to half-retire, while others use it as a way to audition practice locations and styles. Though there are some “bureaucratic” responsibilities come with the work, temporary physicians can generally just focus on caring for patients, Ebner said.

In a related analysis, Staff Care estimated 48,000 physicians had done temporary work in 2016, which is almost twice as many as in 2002.