Radiologists in growing demand as locum tenens

November 15, 2005 -- Driven by the national physician shortage in the U.S. and changing practice patterns among doctors, more hospitals, medical groups, and other providers are relying on the services of temporary -- or locum tenens -- physicians. Radiologists, in particular, are in demand as interim physicians in most parts of the U.S.

Each year Staff Care of Irving, TX, conducts a survey of the interim physician staffing market. The firm surveys both hospital and medical group administrators who use the services of locum tenens physicians and physicians working on a locum tenens basis. The survey also includes a review of the locum tenens staffing assignments conducted during the course of the previous calendar year.

The 2005 Review of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends (available at indicates that approximately 34,000 physicians worked on a temporary basis in 2004, up from about 27,000 in 2001. The survey also indicates that spending on temporary physician services nationwide approached $3 billion in 2004 -- more than doubling over the last four years.

Radiologists are close to the top of the wish list for hospitals and others seeking temporary coverage. Based on the survey, the top eight medical specialties most in demand for temporary assignments include anesthesiologists/CRNAs, psychiatrists, radiologists, family practitioners, general internists, pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons, and general surgeons.

In 2004, Staff Care received requests for 30,114 days of radiology coverage from clients nationwide. Demand for temporary radiologists is widespread, though certain states generated more requests than others. The listing below shows the states generating the most requests for temporary radiologists.

Temporary Radiologist Days Requested - 2004

State Days Requested  
  New York 2,082  
  Florida 1,729  
  Texas 1,394  
  Georgia 1,301  
  Tennessee 1,156  
  South Carolina 1,096  
  Missouri 812  
  Ohio 775  

In the past, locum tenens assignments for radiologists and other physicians were mostly located in midsized communities or smaller, rural areas. Recently, however, the physician shortage has become more pervasive, and even larger urban health systems are using locum tenens physicians to provide radiology coverage. Contrary to a lingering perception among some radiologists, locum tenens work is not confined to the country anymore.

Assignment lengths for locum tenens radiologists average about 10 days, while the length of individual assignments is generally based on the physician's availability. An increasing number of radiologists are using part of their vacation time to locum tenens work, traveling while enhancing their incomes. Typically, they are available for about 10 days and then must return to their full-time practices. However, many radiology assignments are open-ended as hospitals and medical groups seek permanent physicians while using locum tenens doctors to maintain patient care and revenue. Radiologists who are not in a full-time permanent practice can easily secure assignments longer than 10 days if they desire. In other cases, hospitals and medical groups require locum tenens radiologists for shorter assignments of one week or so to fill in for vacationing doctors.

Radiologists and other physicians working on a locum tenens basis are paid per diem. Daily rates for radiologists today range from about $1,200 to $1,600. Incomes for full-time locum tenens radiologists can be comparable to private practice radiologists. Premium pay is available to physicians working extra hours, and this can make the incomes of locum tenens radiologists even more competitive relative to traditional private radiology practice. In addition, many radiologists enjoy the freedom that working on a locum tenens basis offers and the relative absence of medical politics and other "hassle factors."

Radiologists who are able to read multiple modalities are generally more marketable as locum tenens radiologists than those who read only plain film. Many hospitals and medical groups require temporary MRI and mammography coverage, and are eager to place radiologists capable of reading these modalities.

Following the trend that has transformed nursing, a growing number of physicians are finding that temporary work is an interesting, relatively enjoyable alternative to traditional practice. Older doctors see it as an ideal form of semiretirement, while younger physicians can use temporary jobs as a way of finding the type of practice settings that suits them best.

The survey also included telephone interviews with 602 hospital and medical group administrators who use temporary physicians. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed indicated they use temporary physicians to maintain continuity of patient care, 44% indicated temporary physicians prevent loss of revenue, 44% indicated that these physicians are immediately available, and 27% indicated that such assignments prevent "burnout" among permanent medical staff.

In the past, temporary physicians were mostly used to fill in for sick or vacationing physicians. In an era of physician shortages, administrators use temporary physicians in a number of creative ways to maintain patient care and shore up revenues. The workforce in other healthcare professions has becoming increasingly mobile in recent years, and the same is now true for radiologists and other physicians.

By Christin Canon contributing writer
November 15, 2005

Christin Canon is vice president of Staff Care, a national locum tenens staffing firm based in Irving, TX. She can be reached at

Rads are still in demand, recruiting survey shows, June 7, 2005

Radiology's class war? SalaryScan reveals red state/blue state divide, May 31, 2005

Radiologists are hot, but no longer red-hot, July 26, 2004

Heartland imaging pays for U.S. radiologists, May 11, 2004

Survey says rads are working harder for less, April 15, 2004

Copyright © 2005


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