The top 10 in-demand specialties for locum tenens in 2024

April 4th, 2024 19 Min read The top 10 in-demand specialties for locum tenens in 2024 Blog

Locum tenens is an option for nearly every physician specialty, but there are certain specialties with consistently high demand. Practitioners in these specialties often have their pick of assignments nationwide, providing them greater flexibility, higher compensation, and unique travel experiences. Here are the top 10 specialties for locum tenens in 2024.

1. Family medicine

Family medicine continues to be one of the top specialties for locum tenens. Not only is demand for this specialty growing at an average of 2% to 4% per year, but the AAMC also projected a shortage of up to 48,000 family medicine physicians by 2034. That gap represents a significant opportunity for locums family medicine physicians who are ready to fill it.

Dr. Colin Zhu works locum tenens full time in family practice and doesn’t anticipate the need for his services slowing down any time soon. “As a primary care physician, we’re already in demand, and it allows me to be like a free agent. Because of the vastness of opportunities available, I can decide where I can go based off my preferences.”

Quote from Dr. Colin Zhu about the variety of opportunities for locums primary care physicians

Another family medicine physician, Dr. Lexi Mitchell Sanchez, appreciates the control it gives her over her schedule. As a locum doctor, she’s less burdened with the administrative issues at a location. “I’m okay with that because it takes up a lot of time and energy, and I can just go in and see patients and leave. There’s not many things to worry about when I’m at work, and I almost always finish on time.”

2. Anesthesiology

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates a shortfall of around 12,500 anesthesiologists by 2033. Many anesthesiologists are nearing retirement age and retiring early in increasing numbers because of burnout. Nearly 35% of anesthesiologists in a 2023 Medscape survey reported suffering from burnout, and 42% of those respondents say burnout has had a strong and severe impact on their lives.

Anesthesiologist Dr. Noel Lumpkin says locum tenens was the key to finding her ideal work/life balance and avoiding burnout. “Locums has allowed me to remain sane,” she says. “I probably would have burned out from medicine by now if I hadn’t chosen locums. It allows me to have a work/life balance, and I have ultimate control over my schedule.”

Dr. Ahmed Rahman says locums has similarly given him control over his schedule, something he felt he didn’t have in his position as a staff anesthesiologist. “In every hospital where you work as an employee, you have politics in the hospital, and you can’t control your schedule. This is what drew me to locums.”

3. OB/GYN

OB/GYNs are always in short supply. A 2022 report found that an additional 5% of U.S. counties lost access to an OB/GYN in just two years, and 2.2 million women now lack access to care. This means women don’t receive care or must travel long distances to see a physician. Both scenarios can have adverse effects on women’s health.

Dr. Gina Bell found that working locums is a win-win situation for her patients and her own needs. She first heard about locums from a colleague. “He had expressed that he thought it was a really good idea for me to look into it because he was so pleased with this lifestyle. Knowing my situation as a single parent, he thought it might be ideal. When I did it, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how it really worked.”

Quote from Dr. Shyrlena Bogard about her flexible schedule as a locum OB/GYN

The flexibility of locum tenens is one of the reasons Dr. Shyrlena Bogard was drawn to locums work. “It gives me the flexibility to choose to work two weeks straight and take two weeks off, or work a month and take three weeks to get myself back together. So I don’t burn out, and I can continue to enjoy doing what I love.”

4. Gastroenterology

While the demand for gastroenterologists continues to grow, physicians in this specialty have been unable to keep up with the demand. It’s estimated that 1,630 GI doctors will leave the field between 2023 and 2025 due to early retirement, burnout, and a desire for greater work/life balance.

Working full-time locums allows Dr. Robert Brenner to spend less time on administration and more time seeing patients. He says it also allows him to fit a full workload around his extended family's needs without sacrificing pay. “I knew locums was there for a long time, but I never took a good look at it. It’s one of those things that I kind of wish I had done five years ago.” Dr. Brenner says he likes booking as much locums work as possible for 20 days a month and taking 10 off. “When I’m home, I’m free. As long as locums works, I’ll keep doing that.”

For Dr. Bhavesh Shah, locum tenens provided an invaluable career transition opportunity. His goal was a directorship position, but he wanted time to find the right fit professionally and personally. Working locums allowed him to be thorough and patient in his search. He says, “I decided I wasn’t going to leave the locums market until I could make a forward move in a leadership and a financial sense. I do know that at any moment, if I’m not happy with this, the locum market is there for me, and that’s a really good feeling.”

5. Internal medicine

Demand for internal medicine physicians to work in hospitalist positions is growing faster than average at 10% to 14%. And doctors who work as hospitalists face many stressors in their work environment, with high patient volumes and extended hours all too common.

Dr. Paymon Kayhani works locums full-time as a locum hospitalist, and he says he doesn’t miss having a staff job. He enjoys a flexible schedule that allows him to take time off when needed. The high demand for locums means he never feels at a loss for work. “I realized that there was an immense amount of work out there as a locum, and I could have the same constancy I depended on as a permanent hospitalist working exclusively locums. I’ve been in that capacity now for three years with no interruptions and no loss of contracts.”

Quote from. Dr. Paymon Kayhani about the fact that he is never lacking for work as a locum physician

Dr. Tammy Allen echoes the sentiment. “If you’re willing to travel, you have security in your job as a locum because we are needed all over.” She frequently takes time off between assignments to travel for leisure and enjoys knowing she’ll have another assignment available when she’s ready to work again.

6. Neurology

The most recent statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) U.S. Physician Data Dashboard show that out of 14,636 neurologists nationwide, nearly a third (31%) are 65 or older. While they may not all be retiring immediately, overall trends in physician shortages suggest that demand for this specialty will continue to increase.

For Dr. Andrew Wilner, locum tenens offered a remedy for many professional stressors. As a locum neurologist, he has enjoyed relief from a lot of the extra administrative work he was doing so that he could spend more time with patients. Flexibility is also important to him. He says, “Employed physicians report to work on a rigid schedule. For example, when I was in private practice, vacation requests were not honored unless submitted six months in advance. Locum tenens offers physicians a rare opportunity to achieve work/life balance.”

7. Surgical specialties

There’s currently a high demand for various surgical specialties, including orthopedic, vascular, neurological, and cardiovascular, in addition to general surgery. Not only are many surgeons nearing retirement age — nearly 25% of general surgeons are 65 or older — but they’re also increasingly located in urban centers and focusing on niche sub-specialties. This makes it more difficult for those in rural or disadvantaged areas to receive care.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sonya Sloan found locum tenens helped maximize her earning power while protecting time for her family and her charitable pursuits. Through a wide range of shifting life circumstances, Dr. Sloan found that she could flex her professional life around her personal needs without sacrificing her financial health. She says, “That's part of the beauty of locums — you create as you go, as well as reserving the possibility to slow down, travel to where your family is, and do what they're doing. So, there are lots of options.”

For orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Hubler, locums means focusing more on medicine and less on administrative tasks. “I was in private practice for 29 years, and it got to the point where I would work until 5:00 PM or 5:30 PM seeing patients, but it would be 8:30 PM or 9:00 PM by the time I finished up all the paperwork,” he says. “Locums simplified a lot of that.”

8. Medical oncology

In a 2023 report, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) predicted a significant

increase in demand, which is expected to rise by as much as 40% in the same period. ASCO research findings state that “the oncology workforce is concentrated in a small number of urban counties — and most rural counties in the U.S. have no medical oncologists.”

A mix of interdependent factors is contributing to this workforce shortage, including lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, geographic disparities in cancer incidence and recovery rates, regional socio-economic considerations, as well as insurance industry concerns, and the number of 65+ practitioners who may be leaving the profession through retirement. The administrative burden on medical oncologists from payor pressures also drains their capacity and may lead to early burnout.

This adds up to the increasing demand for locum tenens coverage in this crucial specialty. Physicians who opt for locum tenens assignments in medical oncology find they can spend more time on patient care while easing the administrative load they’d experience as staff employees. Locum physicians can often optimize their hours and earnings while protecting the time they need for work/life balance. Also, locums doesn’t necessarily mean excessive travel. Many locum physicians can find steady assignments close to home.

9. Psychiatry

Mental health awareness is growing among the public, and with that comes a greater need for psychiatric services. Unfortunately, the number of practicing psychiatrists in the U.S. is expected to decrease by 20% by 2030, leaving a shortage of 12,000 psychiatrists.

Additionally, 160 million Americans live in a psychiatry shortage area, and this deficiency is only expected to grow. So, it should be no surprise that psychiatry is among the top in-demand specialties for locum tenens.

Psychiatrist Dr. Heather Cumbo chose locum tenens because it allows her to provide psychiatric care to those who might not otherwise have access. “Most of the places where I go are located in rural communities. So, it’s not only gratifying that I have the independence I like, but I’m also taking care of people who otherwise would not have any mental healthcare at all.”

Quote from. Dr. Heather Cumbo about working in rural areas and caring for underserved patients

Dr. Cumbo says she appreciates the freedom that locums affords her to schedule time off. “I have colleagues who are employed physicians, and because of the patient care demand, they frequently aren’t able to take vacations. Being locums, I can block off my periods where I take a vacation when I want to take it, and then I work locums around my vacations.”

10. Cardiology

The need for cardiologists is expected to increase through at least 2033. Several factors are driving this growth, including an aging population that will require complex healthcare in increasing numbers, a growing share of cardiologists reaching retirement age, and fewer new physicians specializing in cardiology. Of course, not all older cardiologists are ready to hang up the white coat just yet.

Cardiologist Dr. Michael Higginbotham says that although he was of traditional retirement age, he wasn’t ready to retire yet. “I had a survivable retirement account, but I knew I didn’t want to stop working completely, and I wanted to do part-time work. So, about a year before retirement, I started locums part time and stopped full-time work. One of the reasons I like working locums is the feeling that I’m doing something I’m good at and useful at.”

Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley felt the same way. “I just didn’t want to retire. So I decided to pursue locum tenens, and it’s the happiest I’ve been in a long, long time.”

To learn more about locum tenens opportunities in your specialty, give us a call at 800.453.3030 or view all locum tenens job opportunities.

Author

Jennifer Hunter

Jennifer Hunter

Jen Hunter has been a marketing writer for over 10 years. She enjoys telling the stories of healthcare providers and sharing new, relevant, and the most up-to-date information on the healthcare front. Jen lives in Salt Lake City, UT, with her husband, two kids, and their Golden Retriever. She enjoys all things outdoors-y, but most of all she loves being in the Wasatch mountains.

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