Temporary MD Market Sees Pay Hikes Up To 30%, Reflecting Hot Permanent Market

Temporary MD Market Sees Pay Hikes Up To 30%, Reflecting Hot Permanent Market

The temporary or “locum tenens” physician market is strong across the board, particularly in non-primary specialties, with some “hot” specialties scoring gains as high as 30% over the past year in daily pay rates.

According to executives of two temp recruiting firms that together filled about 12,000 physician assignments last year — CompHealth in Salt Lake City and Staff Care in Irving, Texas — most temp assignments in today’s market are to fill new permanent jobs until a permanent candidate is chosen. The permanent physician job market is also strong (PCR 1/31/01 p. 1).

An assignment to fill a permanent job tends to run almost as long as the permanent job search, often two to nine months. Such assignments are usually longer than those created due to physicians’ vacations, illnesses or other absences, or because of temporary surges in patient flow, such as winter in popular retirement areas. CompHealth has a formal program called the Trial Practice Option in which some of its placements are candidates for permanent jobs.

CompHealth president Don DeCamp says that day rates paid to physicians are up about 30% in the past year for cardiologists, gastroenterologists and radiologists over the past year (see chart below).

Anesthesiologists are up 20%, ob/gyns up 10% and primary care up 2%-4% in the same time frame, he adds.

DeCamp says that the salary hikes are “driven by a true shortage.” The number of new spots filled at U.S. medical schools in 2000 was 16,300, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. That number is about fiat with recent years, and applications to medical school (37,000 in 2000) were down 3% from 1999 and 21% from the record year of 1996. Even with many foreign medical graduates in the market, overall demand for physicians is rising at a faster rate than the number of physicians looking for either permanent or temporary jobs, and that is causing search times for both kinds of jobs to lengthen.

Adult primary care (internal medicine and family practice) was fiat about a year ago, and pediatrics was slowing down. Now, says DeCamp, all primary care recruitment markets are growing, with pediatric subspecialties and neonatology growing especially fast. CompHealth also recruits physician assistants and nurse practitioners, and both markets are “hot” with rising salaries.

Strong Primary Care Comeback Is Likely

Dustin Koger, vice president for operations at Staff Care, says the hottest demand at that firm is for hospital-based specialists, especially anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists and radiologists. Day rates in these fields are $650-$800, $600-$650, and $950-$1,200, respectively (see chart, this page).

There are 10 jobs for every one candidate in radiology, Koger says, and the pay rate in that field shows the largest percentage rise over the last two years in any specialty

He attributes the shortages of anesthesiologists and radiologists to the reduction in specialists trained in those fields in the middle and late 1990s. That happened in response to the rise of the managed care gatekeeper model at that time, and the turn in medical training toward primary care.

Markets for two other hospital-based specialties, pathology and emergency medicine, are “pretty steady,” Koger says. The wide pay range for ER physicians, from $50 to $150 per hour, varies mainly with how busy an ER is and how many trauma cases there are. ER physicians at $50 per hour are often on call and nearby the hospital, rather than stationed in it.

In the nurse anesthetist market, the going day rate of at least $600, times a work year of 220 days, exceeds $130,000, well above the average pay rate for permanent nurse anesthetists. Koger says he’s never before seen medical temp pay rates exceed permanent rates. In addition to day rates, nurse anesthetists are now earning daily food allowances of $25-$30 per day

The market for psychiatrists, both permanent and temporary, continues strong from last year, he says. Current day rates are $450 to $500 for general outpatient psychiatrists, and $475 to $525 for child psychiatrists.

In general, physicians do not seek temp work to maximize income, because they could make more as permanent physicians, Koger says. Instead, they may be seeking more time off, trying to move to another city, or slowing down in anticipation of retirement.

Don Robb, vice president for primary care at Staff Care, says that primary care day rates have been pretty stable at about $400 for the past two years. He attributes that to the end or curtailment of the gatekeeper model in many managed care plans and PPOs over the last several years.

This has drastically cut the number of patients that primary care physicians must see to refer to specialists. The continued growth of the nurse practitioner and physician assistant fields also cuts demand for primary care physicians, but this factor is less important.

Robb predicts that the primary care job market will strengthen over the next two or three years. The two main factors he cites are the aging of the population, which raises the numbers of office visits in nearly all fields, and early retirements by physicians.

Staff Care is a subsidiary of Merritt Hawkins, which published a study last summer highlighting how widespread early retirement plans are among practicing physicians over 50 (PCR 8/9/00, p. 7).

CompHealth arranged 6,200 temporary physician assignments in 2000, and Staff Care arranged 5,500. (An assignment is one job placement; one physician can do several assignments in a year.) Both firms are affiliated with large permanent physician recruiting operations.

Contact DeCamp at (800) 453-3030 or www.comphealth.com; and Koger or Robb at (800) 685-2272 or www.staffcare.com.

Pay Ranges for Temporary Physicians,


Pct. increase,

Specialty Low High last yr.

Cardiology $600 $900 30%

Gastroenterology $600 $700 30%

Radiology $900 $1,200 30%

Anesthesiology $1,000 $1,200 20%

IM/FP $650 $680 3.5%

Pediatrics $340 $400 2%

Ob/Gyn $525 $550 10%

SOURCE: CompHealth, Salt Lake City, (800) 453-3030 or

www.comphealth.com. Pay ranges are estimates of amounts paid daily to

physicians in current market on assignments arranged by CompHealth.

Amounts paid by employers to CompHealth are higher to account for

licensing, travel, lodging and other expenses as set in each deal, plus

CompHealth’s overhead and profit. Percentages are increases of current

market over 12 months ago.

Pay Ranges for Temporary Physicians,

Staff Care

Specialty Low High

Cardiology[*] $550 $650

Gastroenterology $500 $550

Oncology $500 $550

Radiology $950 $1,200

Anesthesiology $650 $800

Nurse anesthetists[**] $600 $650

Pathology $400 $450

IM/FP[***] $400 $400

Pediatrics $400 $400

Psychiatry $450 $525

Emergency medicine $50/hour $150/hour

Pay ranges are estimates of amounts paid daily to physicians in current

market on assignments arranged by Staff Care. Amounts paid by employers

to Staff Care are higher to account for licensing, travel, lodging

and other expenses as set in each deal, plus Staff Cafe’s overhead and

profit. [*] Pay rises for cardiologists as portion of invasive work rises.

[**] CRNAs also receive per diem food allowance of $25-$30 per day.

[***] Adult primary care includes ambulatory or “urgent care” and

occupational medicine.

SOURCE: Staff Care, Irving, Texas, (800) 685-2272 or www.staffcare.com.

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