Considering Locum Tenens? Freedom, Good Pay, and Some Risks

Neil Chesanow


March 08, 2017

In This Article

Compensation: A Major Benefit

If you're considering locum work and compensation is the main draw, you're not alone.

Thomas Crawford, PhD, MBA, clinical instructor and administrator at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, was CEO of a rural hospital system in Vermont, where he regularly hired locus doctors. He still remembers how he lost one of his full-time ob/gyns to the locum tenens lifestyle.

"He decided, with all of the increasing expectations by way of productivity, that he could be a locum hospitalist every other week, working 26 weeks a year, and make the same if not more money as he did as a full-time ob/gyn, without being pressured about what his relative value unit production was last month," Dr Crawford recalls.

This is a major appeal of becoming a locum tenens: As a locum doctor, you can earn almost as much doing the same work or less, even in a rural locale, as you can in a full-time position at a clinic, group practice, or hospital in a major city.[8,9] If you're willing to work overtime, you can earn significantly more.

This can make locum work particularly attractive to residents, fellows, and other young doctors. Dr Crawford refers to them as "tuitionists"—"they're looking for an opportunity to pay off a couple of hundred thousand dollars in medical school loans," he says. "And what a fantastic opportunity for them to do so."

The compensation reported by the locum doctors in the Staff Care survey ranged from several hundred dollars to more than $2000 per day.[7]

"Locum tenens pays very well," says Rob Indresano, president of Barton Associates, a locum placement firm based in Peabody, Massachusetts. "Providers who work locum tenens on a full-time basis can easily earn as much or more than those in permanent positions. Locum tenens pay is also directly related to the amount of work the provider puts in because they are paid on an hourly basis, whereas salaried employees are generally paid a flat amount, regardless of overtime."

"The amount of money a locum tenens provider can earn comes down to the amount of work he or she wants," Indresano continues. "Fortunately, there is no shortage of locum tenens work. With the physician shortage getting more drastic each year, the number of locum tenens opportunities is projected to rise. Anyone familiar with basic economics knows that as the demand for locum tenens providers grows, so too will locum tenens pay."

"At Barton Associates, we have started to see increases in locum tenens pay for many of our core specialties," Indresano says. "For example, hourly rates for locum tenens emergency medicine physicians and hospitalists have increased about 30% over the past 5 years. Similarly, locum tenens primary care physician rates have increased about 20% in the past 3 years."

You don't need to do locum work on a full-time basis, Indresano adds. "Part-time locum tenens providers who do such work to supplement their permanent positions also have a great opportunity to earn—particularly hospitalists and emergency medicine providers, who can essentially double their annual earnings," he maintains. "The seven-on, seven-off schedule that these providers often keep makes them well-suited to pick up locum tenens work during their off days. If they can keep up the schedule, the potential for earnings is very high."


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