State of the Locum Tenens Industry

Across the healthcare industry, the demand for locum tenens services is on the rise. What is driving the need for locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners, and how is it affecting the medical sector? Let’s find out.

What Does Locum Tenens Mean?

Locum tenens is Latin for “to hold a place.” It is a temporary staffing solution for resolving physician and advanced practitioner shortage problems. Over 90% of medical facilities in the US have, at some point, hired locum physicians and advanced practitioners that practice critical care, primary care, emergency medicine, internal medicine, anesthesiology, surgeons, and other fields of medicine.

Locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners can fill short-term staffing gaps, ranging from days or weeks, to longer term locum tenens assignments which last 12 months or more.

Aside from physicians, locum physician’s assistants (PA), nurse practitioners (NP), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA), and even licensed counselors are in high demand.

The Growing Locum Tenens Industry

The primary cause of increased demand for locum tenens providers is a scarcity of medical professionals. The physician shortage crisis becomes more severe every year, especially in rural communities with fewer healthcare facilities.

Since the 1970s, medical institutions have used temporary medical professionals to combat personnel shortages. Doctors and advanced practitioners are also taking advantage of temporary assignments to supplement their income and explore more career opportunities.

More and more doctors and advanced practitioners are abandoning traditional permanent hospital work to become full-time locum tenens practitioners. That’s because the average full-time locum physician and advanced practitioner has greater control over their work schedule and can earn higher rates than their permanent counterpart. Locum jobs have become so tempting that professionals in this field went from 26,000 in 2002 to 48,000 in 2016, with popularity only increasing since then. As you can imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the need for physicians and advanced practitioners with certain expertise in certain parts of the country.

While locum tenens assignments are available for every physician specialty, some specialties are in higher demand than others. The most highly sought after are primary care, family medicine, urgent care, and anesthesiology.

Changes in Locum Tenens Practice

The very first type of traveling doctors were those who traveled to different places in the 1850s searching for patients. Of course, the locum tenens practice has evolved substantially since then. Below are some of the ways locum tenens have changed in more recent times.

Lengthier Assignments

Originally, locum tenens placements were for two weeks or less to fill in for doctors who were on leave or were otherwise absent. Yet in recent years, assignments have become longer. The most common assignment duration ranges from five weeks to six months. Almost 40% of clinicians prefer assignments that last between one and four months, while 16% prefer assignments between nine and 12 months.

It is not unusual for a hospital or medical practice to offer a locum tenens physician or advanced practitioner a permanent job at the end of their assignment. Such employment offers are more common in rural areas, especially when the doctor’s specialty is in high demand.

Needed in Many Medical Facilities

All hospitals and other healthcare facilities, experience a physician shortage at some point. When this happens, locum hiring is the fastest way to fill the staffing gap. Over 90% of healthcare centers in the US use locum doctors at least once a year to stay adequately staffed, relieve physician burnout, or other cover leaves of absence.

Available Throughout the US

You can find locum tenens jobs in all 50 states, including in rural and urban communities. States with the highest hourly rates include Indiana, Florida, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Alabama, California, and Kentucky.

Full-Time Work

Being a locum physician is no longer strictly a part-time gig. You can now pursue it as a full-time career that offers greater work flexibility and better pay.

More Specialties

While primary care, family medicine, urgent care, and anesthesiology are some of the most desired specialties, practitioners in other medical fields can also find locum tenens work. Even PAs, NPs, CRNAs, psychologists, and dentists can find temporary positions.

No Experience Limits

Doctors and advanced practitioners who are fresh out of medical school can take locum tenens jobs. It is an effective way to build your resume and gain valuable experience in various types of work environments in a short amount of time. Senior physicians, retirees, and providers at the midpoint of their careers can also take up assignments– there are jobs out there for all types of physicians and advanced practitioners.

Why Physicians Take Locum Tenens Assignments

Some doctors become full-time locum tenens physicians, while others combine it with their permanent hospital job. Many do it to earn more money, but others do it for various other reasons, including:

  • Transitioning from one permanent position to another
  • Transitioning from full-time practice into retirement
  • Get hands-on experience before accepting a long-term contract
  • Give back in rural or underserved areas (locum tenens physicians are a primary source of clinical care to two million Native Americans and Alaska Natives)
  • More flexibility and work/life balance, with less administrative work

How Much Do Locum Tenens Physicians Make?

If you plan to take on locum assignments to earn a more competitive salary without overhead costs, we can help you. The average full-time locum physician can earn $32.45 per hour more than doctors that work only permanent jobs. Depending on your specialty, you can earn over $2,000 per day.

Finding the best paying jobs yourself can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Save time by letting Lucidity match you with locum tenens opportunities that are in line with your long and short-term career goals. Our experience and connections within the healthcare industry put us in the perfect position to satisfy your employment needs.

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