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Why Physicians Are Ditching Their 9-5

An AMN Healthcare survey found that nearly half of providers prefer locum tenens to regular employment as the gig economy grows in healthcare.
Courtesy: iStock

Nearly half of physicians and advanced practice providers say that locum tenens work is more satisfying than a full-time job, according to a recent survey by local staffing firm AMN Healthcare, the largest healthcare staffing firm in the country. Providers noted an improved schedule and avoiding burnout as the main reasons for moving into locum tenens.

Latin for “to hold in place,” locum tenens began as a way to provide care to rural areas that couldn’t support a full-time position, but the positions are nearly ubiquitous now, with time frames ranging from a few days to a year. In early 2024, AMN received responses from nearly 600 physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners who held a locum tenens position in the previous 18 months.

Locum tenens is still somewhat of a niche in the medical field, but even providers are not immune from the growth of the gig economy. The number of physicians working in locum tenens has doubled since 2002, from 26,000 to nearly 52,000. Even as the travel nursing boom has normalized after the pandemic, locum tenens continues to grow. A Staffing Industry Analysts report found that locum tenens grew 27 percent between 2021 and 2022 and projected a 12 percent increase in 2023 and 7 percent in 2024, according to the US Staffing Industry Forecast. Today, 90 percent of healthcare facilities use locum tenens positions.

AMN’s report found that 86 percent of those surveyed said they left regular employment for a better work schedule, and 80 percent said it was to address feelings of burnout. “During the COVID pandemic, healthcare professionals began to rethink how, when, and where they work,” said Jeff Decker, President of AMN Healthcare’s Physician Solutions division. “Locum tenens offer relief from the long, inflexible work hours and onerous bureaucratic duties that often cause dissatisfaction and burnout among physicians and other healthcare providers.  Locum tenens providers also offer staffing flexibility for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.”

The survey found that 47 percent of respondents found locum tenens positions more satisfying than permanent positions, while only 12 percent the opposite. Ninety-five percent said that morale in locum tenens positions is either high or moderate. Still, nearly half (45 percent) of those surveyed said they would prefer a permanent position if conditions were right and felt like they were forced into temporary positions by undesirable working conditions. Lack of benefits, being away from home, and the credentialing process were the three most common drawbacks to locum tenens.

Historically, locum tenens has been a way for providers to transition from full-time employment to retirement, but the survey found that younger physicians who prioritize flexibility are increasingly making the move. The survey found that 81 percent of respondents said they started working in temporary positions right after graduate school or mid-career. In 2016, only 64 percent of respondents to the same question said they began working locum tenens right out of training or in mid-career. About a third of respondents said they have permanent positions and moonlight with locum tenens, while 64 percent said they do it as their only job.

As they grow, the locum tenens positions are diversifying. In 2016, 21 percent of the temporary positions were primary care roles, but this year’s survey found that only 11 percent of locum tenens providers were in primary care. Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants have filled many of the new locum tenens positions, representing 24 percent of providers working locum tenens, a 300 percent increase from 2016.

For many providers, locum tenens positions offer the best of all worlds. “You can try on numerous practices without long-term obligation and frustration until you find an excellent match,” one respondent said. “Much less of your career is wasted suffering through unpleasant practice environments. Also, as a locum, I get to concentrate much more on taking care of patients and much less on management and politics.”


Will Maddox

Will Maddox

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Will is the senior writer for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He's written about healthcare…