But How Much Does It Pay?
Locum tenens primary care physicians generally are paid a daily rate of $600 to $800, says Ebner. Their annual income depends on their ability to keep a full schedule, which in primary care is not hard -- there are a lot of assignments.
"A primary care physician working as a locum tenens full-time can easily generate about $150,000 a year in income, somewhat less than a private-practice physician or an employed physician," says Ebner. "However, with overtime shifts, they can earn considerably more. A locum tenens physician should never pay a fee to an agency."
One financial factor that locum tenens physicians need to take into account is that there is no 401(k) with company matching, which many employed physicians have.
"It's important to remember that locum tenens physicians are independent contractors," says Ebner. "They can choose what assignments they like, they don't have to go where agencies tell them to, and they are free agents, but they do not get retirement or other benefits. The agency does pay for malpractice insurance, transportation, and accommodation."
Assignments come in many different lengths. Locum tenens need not be an "If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" hectic schedule.
What's the typical assignment stint? "A couple of weeks is pretty standard, but it can vary," says Ebner. "Some locum tenens assignments, often in primary care, can last up to 1 year. Some locations have a hard time finding permanent primary care doctors and rely on locum tenens doctors until they can find one, which can take some time."
In fact, some physicians stay in 1 area and don't take assignments far away. Some doctors choose to only work in their home state, or even in and around their home city.
Demand for Locum Tenens Is Growing
Physicians considering locum tenens assignments will find that demand is at an all-time high, according to May survey results from Staff Care. As older physicians retire or change careers, healthcare organizations are struggling to find replacements.
The majority of hospital and medical group managers surveyed (75%) said their facilities had used temporary physicians sometime in the past 12 months, and 41% said they are currently looking for temporary physicians. The primary reason hospitals and medical groups use temporary doctors, cited by 57% of those surveyed, is to fill in until a permanent doctor can be found.
Not surprisingly, 20% of the positions Staff Care was asked to fill in the last year were for primary care doctors -- which is suffering the largest specialty shortage nationwide, according to the firm. Other in-demand specialists were behavioral care providers (19%), anesthesiologists (16%), hospitalists (10%), and surgeons (8%).
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Cite this: Can Locum Tenens Be a High-Paying Career? - Medscape - Aug 30, 2012.