Locum Tenens Becomes Strategic Staffing in Era of Shortages

Healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to locum tenens professionals to meet strategic staffing needs, particularly in specialty areas, due to growing physician shortages. “It used to be that temporary physicians were regarded simply as a quick fix for staffing holes,” notes Kurt Mosley, VP of strategic alliances for Merritt Hawkins and Staff Care, both AMN physician staffing companies. “Nowadays, they’ve become a strategic piece of the staffing mix to ensure uninterrupted care quality.”

Several factors are driving this trend, he says, such as inadequate physician numbers, rising service demand and changing reimbursement structures tied to patient satisfaction and other value-based measurements. “Physician vacancies can lead to delays in treatment, long waiting times, and even physician burnout,” Mosley says. “Locum tenens physicians are experienced doctors who can step in and provide quality care during staffing vacancies. Most healthcare organizations regard them as welcome and much-needed additions to their staff.” 

Healthcare organizations surveyed in 2016 cited various reasons for using locum tenens including to fill in during permanent search (75%), for staff who have left (74%), and for vacation/CME coverage (39%). The use of locum tenens providers in an evolving healthcare staffing market was the subject of a recent webinar by AMN Healthcare: Have Stethoscope, Will Travel.

Physician Shortages

The growing population of older Americans is driving the need for more medical services and more healthcare professionals to provide them. In fact, the population of U.S. seniors (65+) is projected to increase by 50% by 2030. 

PREMIUM CONTENT: Physician recruitment trends 2019

At the same time, many physicians themselves are aging and nearing retirement.  According to recent AMA statistics, nearly 40% currently practicing physicians are 56 years of age or older. The magnitude of the shortages will grow over time.  Currently, a dearth of 21,800 physicians exists, which is expected to rise as high as 121,300 by 2030.

Specialty areas will be hardest hit by the shortages, according to projections. While shortages in primary care will reach 49,000 by 2030, demand for specialists is anticipated to exceed supply by 72,000 by 2030.

Expanding Locum Tenens

According to a 2017 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends by Merritt Hawkins, the use of locum tenens staff has significantly increased over the last few years. The survey showed a rise from 90% in 2013 to 96% in 2016 among facilities that have used locum tenens physicians during the previous 12 months.

While primary care temporary physicians were still the most requested in 2016 at 43.5%, specialty areas including hospitalist (25.3%), behavioral health (23.1%) and emergency medicine (17.2%) were also sought after. In addition, nurse practitioners remained a significant piece of the temporary staffing picture at 15.6%.


While ensuring continuity of care, temporary physician staffing also provides a continued revenue stream to the healthcare facility, while avoiding costly per diem rates. In short, locum tenens providers can be a cost-neutral supplement. Healthcare leaders surveyed about the value of temporary physicians were largely positive, with 80% of respondents in 2016 saying that they were worth the cost.

Staffing agencies provide carefully selected, pre-screened candidates for the healthcare organization’s consideration and handle licensing and credentialing checks, malpractice insurance as well as housing and other logistics. In selecting an agency, healthcare leaders should keep in mind the agency’s size, strength and stability, the type of malpractice insurance provided and its rating, and the various locum tenens specialties available. “Ensuring the selection of a dependable and respected locum tenens staffing partner will give your organization access to the breadth and quality of physicians needed to provide ongoing care excellence,” Mosley says.

Phillip Miller

Phillip Miller
Phillip Miller is Vice President of Communications for Staff Care and Merritt Hawkins, companies of AMN Healthcare.

Phillip Miller

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