Temp M.D.s like jobs more than prior permanent positions

Temp M.D.s like jobs more than prior permanent positions

More than 70% of physicians who have had temporary or “locum tenens” clinical assignments were more satisfied working those positions than they were in their prior permanent positions, says a survey conducted this spring by one of the leading temp physician recruiting firms.

Twenty-eight percent of the 105 survey respondents said they were “much more satisfied” with their “locums” work than with their prior permanent job, and 43% said they were “somewhat more satisfied,” according to Salt Lake City-based CompHealth. Just 10% said they were “somewhat” or “much less satisfied” with temp compared with permanent work.

Seventeen percent said neither job was more satisfactory, and 1% was undecided. CompHealth also recruits permanent physicians.

Scott Beck, the firm’s chief marketing officer, says that a major reason for the higher job satisfaction is the relative absence of job dissatisfaction factors reported in surveys of physicians in permanent jobs, such as reimbursement and administrative issues. “Some physicians are calling locum tenens the purest form of practicing medicine,” Beck says, because business decision-making and paperwork are less a part of most temp jobs than they are of year-round positions (see table, this page). Many temp physicians “feel more autonomy in the time they spend with patients” than they felt before in permanent jobs, he adds, because they feel less driven by administrative rules and business imperatives.

While physicians’ views of pay levels were not part of this survey, “compensation is an important part of [their] overall satisfaction,” says CompHealth spokeswoman Dara Grabner. “Compensation for locum tenens physicians is comparable to that of permanent physicians and has become more competitive in the last five years,” she says, “so locum tenens doctors are generally satisfied with their compensation.”

For example, a permanent family practitioner or internist in the first years of practice earns from $115,000 to $120,000 in many localities, says Grabner. Average pay for a locums FP or IM physician, based on 48 weeks a year, is about $100,000. With several major personal living “freebies” thrown in with temp jobs (see below), she says, these pay figures are comparable.

Reflecting the roughly 70% of respondents in the survey who reported greater satisfaction in temp compared with permanent work, 69% of respondents said that in working the locums assignment, their “perception of locum tenens” improved greatly or somewhat, and only 6% said their perception declined somewhat. Also, 70% said they would definitely or probably recommend locum tenens “as a viable way to practice medicine to a person considering a career path in medicine.”

`Overhead Freeway’

In a PCR interview, Beck gave several reasons beyond those in the survey for most locums physicians’ high job satisfaction:

* Low costs. Temp companies such as CompHealth generally not only cover malpractice insurance, employee benefits and travel to and from assignments, but also usually provide furnished housing and a rental car free of charge to the physician on assignment. Of course, the employer reimburses the temp company for providing this “overhead freeway” to the physician.

* Opportunity to travel. Beck speaks of one locums cardiologist who works almost full-time–for four or five winter months in Arizona and the rest of the time in Alberta or British Columbia. A Minnesota physician works in Hawaii in the winter, and lives in a three-bedroom condo in Maui. A fundamental change in lifestyle for locums physicians is having to move to take their positions, although they can accept or reject locations beforehand. For this reason, physicians with small children have fairly low interest in locums work, Beck says.

* Chance to work less. While temp positions are usually full-time while they last, they appeal to many physicians who want to work only a few months a year or about half the time. Reasons include wanting to edge into retirement, having very strong outside interests and raising children.

Another CompHealth survey, completed but not yet published, reflects these added job satisfaction factors and the common view that locums pay levels are adequate, Grabner says. In the second survey, locum tenens physicians indicate that compensation is one of the top five factors in choosing to accept a locums job, she notes, but the respondents list pay as only the fourth out of the five key factors. The other four determining factors, she says, are, in order, geographic location, quality of assignment, work schedule flexibility, and prestige of the practice facility.

“This leads us to believe,” Grabner says, “that compensation is high enough [for] locums physicians and comparable enough to [that of] their permanent counterparts that it is not an overriding issue in choosing to work locums, and that other aspects of the opportunity help create a satisfactory experience.”

For the survey that has been published, CompHealth collected the responses online. Respondents had worked a locums position after a full-time one. They were not necessarily CompHealth clients, and not necessarily working locums positions when the survey was taken. The survey was conducted from May 25 to June 5, 2002.

Of respondents, 29% were in family practice, 19% in emergency medicine, 14% in internal medicine, 13% in radiology, 10% in pediatrics, and 15% in other fields.

Obtain the Locum Tenens Physician Satisfaction Report from CompHealth at (800) 453-3030 or www.comphealth.com.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Atlantic Information Services, Inc.

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