Physician Blog June 14, 2024

3 Key Attractions for Locum Tenens Providers

In our newly published report, 2024 Survey of Locum Tenens Physicians and Advanced Practice Professionals, we examined the results of a survey of physicians and APPs who have worked on a locum tenens basis sometime in the last 18 months, highlighting a variety of factors impacting their career choices and the motivations behind them. 

As provider shortages, burnout and turnover increase, a growing number of healthcare professionals have chosen to work on temporary assignments rather than in permanent, full-time roles. These include “travel” nurses and allied health professionals, but also physicians and APPs working locum tenens.

To better understand the increasing disparity between permanent and locum tenens roles, we took a closer look at which aspects of locum tenens are most attractive to physicians and APPs when choosing their career paths.

Driving Factors for Locum Tenens Providers

The findings of the survey speak through the lens of healthcare providers, providing key insights into why a growing number of physicians and APPs are choosing the “locums life” during a time of healthcare workforce volatility.

Scheduling Flexibility

The survey asked physicians and APPs to rate various factors that influenced their decision to work locum tenens. The survey found that their primary motivation is to improve working conditions that may be impediments to job satisfaction in permanent practice settings.

In particular, physicians and APPs are choosing locum tenens to obtain more favorable schedules. The majority of those surveyed (86%) indicated that “achieving a better schedule” was a most important or moderately important factor influencing their decision to work locum tenens. Today, many physicians are seeking a favorable work/life balance that allows them the flexibility to pursue outside interests, attend family events and maintain emotional equilibrium. 

This can be difficult in high volume practices in which physicians may be on tight schedules and required to see many patients in a limited timeframe. When recruiting physicians to permanent practice locations, AMN Healthcare Physicians Solutions has found that schedules often are a more contentious negotiating point than compensation.

By working locum tenens, physicians and APPs can choose where and when to practice, working as little as a few weekends per year to working full-time schedules with overtime. Their work schedules are set at their own discretion, and this is a significant draw for those physicians and APPs seeking a better work/life balance than they may have found in permanent practice settings.

Addressing Feelings of Burnout

Eighty percent of physicians and APPs surveyed said that “addressing feelings of burnout” was a most important or moderately important factor influencing their decision to work locum tenens. Burnout among physicians and APPs may be driven by inflexible schedules but also by the high volume of non-clinical bureaucratic functions they are obliged to perform.

In a national survey of physicians conducted by AMN Healthcare Physicians Solutions (then known as Merritt Hawkins) for the Physicians Foundation, physicians indicated they spend 23% of their time on non-clinical paperwork. They identified inefficient electronic health records (EHR) systems and regulatory/insurance paperwork requirements as primary job frustrations.

Physicians and APPs who work locum tenens also must perform “paperwork” duties such tracking patient conditions and notating the services they provide. However, the level of bureaucratic work required of them generally is less than that required of providers in permanent positions, who also may have to engage in practice administration, departmental meetings, compliance programs and other duties that take them from the bedside. Locum tenens physicians, by contrast, are relatively free to focus on patient care, which is what most physicians describe as their greatest source of professional satisfaction.

See Also
Rescuing Retention in an Era of Provider Shortages, Burnout, and Turnover


Earning Cleaner Compensation

Three quarters of physicians and APPs surveyed (75%) said that “declining compensation” was a most important or moderately important factor influencing their decision to work locum tenens. While physician compensation has not necessarily decreased in recent years, many physicians contend that it has not kept up with inflation. For this reason, physicians and their professional associations reacted negatively when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) mandated cuts to its physician compensation formula in both 2023 and 2024.

In addition to feeling like they are treading water financially, physicians often experience difficulty in obtaining reimbursement, or in accepting the often arcane methods by which they are reimbursed. Medicare and private insurance companies may deny claims submitted by physicians, causing protracted negotiations and frustration. Often, physician compensation is tied to difficult to understand production formulas that are based on goals and metrics physicians do not consider clear or fair. It is not always the amount they are paid that creates physician dissatisfaction and burnout, it is the process by which compensation is evaluated and obtained that is the sticking point.

As the survey indicates, 68% of locum tenens physicians and APPs said that “reimbursement challenges” were a very important or moderately important factor influencing them to choose locum tenens

In contrast to the convoluted way many permanent providers are compensated, locum tenens physicians and APPs are paid a per diem rate by the staffing agencies that place them on temporary assignments.

As independent contractors, they keep track of time worked, submit payment requests, and typically are paid promptly. Depending on the number of days they work, locum tenens physicians may not earn as much as they would in permanent practice. However, they often find that the locum tenens reimbursement process is more straightforward and “cleaner”
than the reimbursement process in permanent practice.

About AMN Healthcare Physician Solutions

AMN Healthcare Physician Solutions was originally established in 1987 as Merritt Hawkins. AMN Healthcare provides permanent physician, locum tenens, advanced practitioner, plus, leadership, language services, nursing, and allied staffing and search services to hospitals, medical groups, community health centers, telehealth providers, and many other types of entities nationwide.

As a thought leader in our industry, AMN Healthcare produces a series of surveys, white papers, books, and webinar presentations internally and produces research and thought leadership for third parties.

Latest News

I agree to receive emails, automated text messages, automated phone calls, and automated phone calls that contain prerecorded content from and on behalf of AMN Healthcare, and affiliates. {{show_more}} I understand these messages will be to the email address and/or phone number provided, and will be about advertising and marketing offers in which I may be interested. Consent not required, nor is consent a condition for purchase. By providing the phone number or email address and selecting “Submit” I am providing my digital signature. See Privacy Policy.

I agree to receive emails, automated text messages, automated phone calls, and automated phone calls that contain prerecorded content from and on behalf of AMN Healthcare, and affiliates. {{show_more}} I understand these messages will be to the email address and/or phone number provided, and will be about advertising and marketing offers in which I may be interested. Consent not required, nor is consent a condition for purchase. By providing the phone number or email address and selecting “Submit” I am providing my digital signature. See Privacy Policy.