News & Views

Perspectives on the locum tenens industry

Demand for Locum Tenens Physicians Slowing? Not Really. It’s Just Changing

By Tim Hand – President & CEO, Interim Physicians

I’m always pleased when a reporter contacts Interim Physicians with a request to speak with me or any one of the senior staff here at the firm for a news story or magazine article.

I was recently interviewed by American Medical News, and I was surprised that the published story headline read, “Demand for locum tenens physicians has slowed.” In fact, my answers to the reporter’s questions focused on how much later facilities are requesting coverage, preferring instead to get their current staff to pick up additional shifts, if they are able to.


The article cites a survey conducted by AMN Healthcare (one of our competitors and a highly regarded player in the industry) of their own client facilities and AMN’s internal figures. According to the article, Staff Care, AMN’s temporary physician placement division, actually booked more locum tenens physician days in 2011 than they did in 2010. Why that happened only Staff Care would know, but the increase in days booked with lower revenue could have been due to a shift in specialty mix, with customer demand moving from higher priced sub-specialties to primary care, for example. To be fair, the trend between 2008 and 2010 (when everyone was holding their breath about the economy) was down, but an uptick is an uptick and a headline stating the demand has “slowed” is misleading.

In contrast to the American Medical News article, Forbes magazine recently picked up the same survey information and interpreted the data quite differently. Their headline read, “Demand for temporary doctors rises amid worsening physicians shortage, Obamacare looming.” The Forbes piece referenced the fact that Staffing Industry Analysts organization is projecting 7% growth in the locum tenens industry for 2012.

Healthcare has been largely immune from the recent recession from which we are all slowly recovering, but temporary staffing firms ours included are subject to fluctuations in the marketplace. It’s part of doing business. That said, the industry is growing and we remain optimistic about the future of locum tenens, in part based on the fact that the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) will ensure that individuals in huge numbers who do not currently have health insurance coverage will soon enjoy that benefit.

There is simply no way that current residency programs can turn out new doctors fast enough and in numbers sufficient to meet what is most certainly a pent up demand for care. Hospitals and clinics across the country will continue to rely on physicians who practice locum tenens to fill staffing gaps as patients currently without coverage secure it and begin taking care of themselves again by making regular visits to their doctors and having nagging health issues addressed.

While the economy as a whole gradually drags itself out of the ditch and health insurance reform, in whatever its final form may be, is fully instituted, we know that the future looks bright for our industry, the doctors who practice locum tenens, and the patients they care for.

The two contrasting headlines mentioned in this blog post clearly show that interpretation matters and that, depending on where you stand, the glass may appear to be half-full or half-empty. At Interim Physicians, we believe the glass is half-full and growing in volume.

Tim Hand is the Chief Executive Officer of Interim Physicians and is a noted healthcare staffing thought leader. He has led three companies to Inc. 500 status over 30 years.