Medical Checkup: More Doctors Want Part-Time Gigs

Apr 22, 2008

Frustrated by pain-in-the-you-know-what HMOs and the threat of universal care, many doctors are cutting back their workloads or bailing out altogether. The percentage of physicians in part-time practice jumped from 13% in 2005 to 19% in 2007, according to a recent survey by the American Medical Group Association. The same survey notes that young doctors between 35 and 39 make up the highest percentage of doctors working part-time.

One company earning some greenbacks from this trend is, a niche agency that pairs physicians seeking part-time or temporary work with hospitals desperate to fill staff positions. The 110-employee company is projecting revenue of $150 million in 2008.

Many of its customers are hospitals or physician groups in rural America, which chronically struggles to attract top doctors. The company also serves community-based clinics, veterans’ hospitals and prisons.  Its recruiters seek out specialists in five hospital moneymakers: surgery, cardiology, anesthesiology, radiology, and psychiatry.

“We made a decision when we opened up the firm 13 years ago to dedicate ourselves to the higher profit, higher demand specialties” that are major profit centers for hospitals, says Pam McKemie, the company’s senior vice president.

There was a time when hospitals didn’t have to market their services, but those days are long gone. Aggressive advertising is the norm as hospitals vie with one another to convince consumers that their high-end facilities and specialists are the best.

Advances in medical-imaging technology, coupled with a growing number of baby boomers who will need services, are fueling growth of the locum tenens industry. Many doctors view locum tenens – a Latin term that means “to stand in place of” — as a way to extend their careers while working fewer hours. According to a survey by Vista Staffing Solutions, another locum tenens provider, 82% of physicians view the arrangement as ideal for easing into semi-retirement.

Based near Atlanta, makes its money through placement fees charged to hospitals. Doctors are treated as independent contractors who get subcontracted to hospitals. The fee typically is based on a number of factors, including a doctor’s daily rate for working an eight-hour shift. About 80% of the fee goes to the physicians hired on a locum tenens basis. keeps the rest to cover a host of administrative tasks associated with getting doctors on staff, including credentialing, licensure, housing, transportation, and purchase of medical-malpractice insurance.

Its job site attracts about 100,ooo unique visitors a month, roughly 95% of whom are physicians, McKemie says. Should they choose, physicians could bypass the company’s third-party recruiters and contact hospitals directly about a placement. has company. In addition to a handful of competing niche recruiters, larger staffing firms such as Adecco and AMN Healthcare have moved into the locums market in recent years. The locum tenens industry accounts for nearly $2 billion in the U.S. in 2007, according to the research firm Staffing Industry Analysts. Various estimates suggest the U.S. faces a shortage of physicians during the next decade or so, although there is considerable debate among experts as to its severity.