Can Locum Tenens Be a High-Paying Career?

Morgan Lewis, Jr.

Disclosures

August 30, 2012

In This Article

Introduction

Although many people think of locum tenens as a doctor constantly on the move to exotic places, the fact is that increasingly more physicians are making locum tenens their primary career. And they're finding it rewarding, financially and emotionally.

William S. Gruss, MD, an internal medicine physician, began accepting locum assignments with Weatherby Healthcare, a division of CHG Healthcare, in 2009. He became a full-time locum tenens in March 2012.

"I have a more defined work schedule," says Gruss, who accepts assignments in Florida and Maine. "When I am on, I am on, and when I am off, I am off. This is a nice change from when I was in private practice, or even as an employed physician with an outpatient setting, where I was getting paged frequently by the answering service."

Duane Gainsburg, MD, a neurosurgeon with Weatherby Healthcare, signed up for a trial weekend with the locum tenens agency in 2004. Pleased with the experience, he accepted an assignment for another week.

"Immediately after a follow-up trial week, I closed my office and haven't looked back," says Gainsburg, who accepts assignments all over the United States.

Several Other Rewards

For Gainsburg, switching to locum tenens assignments offered him the compensation he desired, with none of the paperwork.

"The primary advantage is the ability to concentrate on patient care and not have the hassle of running an office, dealing with increasing hassle and time requirements and decreasing income; also, the ability to predict one's work hours and income," Gainsburg says.

According to an August 2011 article from consulting firm Accenture,[1] many independent office-based physicians intend to call it quits in the coming years. Reasons for this include poor reimbursement and increasing practice demands, such as the need to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and regulatory paperwork.

In 2000, independent physicians who owned their practices comprised 57% of all physicians, according to Accenture. This proportion declined to 43% in 2009 and is projected to decline to 33% by 2013, with 5% drops each year thereafter.

Accountable Care Organization (ACO) delivery models from Medicare and commercial insurers continue to grow, prompting hospitals to acquire more private practices or integrate independent physicians.

The locum tenens population is expected to increase in the coming years, says Sean Ebner, president of physician staffing firm Staff Care, a division of AMN Healthcare.

"Developing and building practices is harder than it was a decade ago," Ebner says. "More people are exploring locums as a way to simply practice medicine because you don't have to worry about the business side of it."

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