Physicians Turn to Gig Work

Sep 19, 2023 | Healthcare

The onset of COVID-19 exacerbated hospital overcrowding and staff shortages, resulting in more overworked doctors and nurses. Increased burnout and shrinking pay have led many medical professionals to look for a change. According to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, nearly a quarter of all physicians in the U.S. said they planned to quit in the next two years (Smith & Delandro). 

Often doctors would transition to temporary assignments during retirement, but many are making the jump to part-time positions earlier in their careers. “About 50,000 doctors, or 7% of the U.S. physician workforce, not including foreign medical-school graduates, now practice medicine via temporary assignments according to medical-staffing company CHG Healthcare. That is a nearly 90% increase from 2015,” (Tarrant).

The flexibility of temporary positions has been appealing to overworked healthcare workers. Freelance physicians usually have the freedom to work as much as they would like and take vacations when they see fit. Yet, as an independent contractor, they do not receive paid vacation, sick time, or any benefits or insurance from the employer. They are also responsible for funding their own retirement. In order to compensate for the lack of benefits, they are usually paid at a higher rate. “Doctors and staffing agencies say working temporary hospital gigs typically can pay 30% to 50% more than what a full-time hospital staff doctor would earn – and sometimes more, depending on the specialty and location,” (Tarrant).

Since they work separate from the hospital entity, the temporary physicians can avoid problematic bureaucratic pressures and hospital productivity metrics. However, prospects must be able to get up to speed in a new and fast-paced work environment.   Also, “Temporary positions require doctors to fulfill credential and licensing requirements for every state or facility they practice in,” (Smith & Delandro). This can be limiting, depending on the physician’s education and licensure status.

Some professionals worry that a greater reliance on temporary doctors can be troublesome for patients, especially in fields such as obstetrics and pediatrics where continuity of care is important.. Yet, temporary physicians are the reason community hospitals, especially in rural areas, are able to provide basic services and continual care. Full-time hospital employees can find themselves distracted with meetings and administrative work, while for-hire doctors can focus strictly on providing care to patients.

Temporary doctors appear to be beneficial for both patients and the physicians themselves. This practice provides an effective way to prevent burnout among health care workers while providing efficient care to patients.

 

Article contributed by Terri L. Marakos, CPA, CHBC

References:

Gretchen Tarrant, “Burned Out, Doctors Turn to Temp Work”, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-part-time-doctor-7025ec1d, June 6, 2023.

Nick Smith, Taylor Delandro, “Doctors turning to temp work, but is it good for patients?”, https://www.kron4.com/news/national/doctors-turning-to-temp-work-but-is-it-good-for-patients/, June 9, 2023.

Seka Palikuca, “Lone wolf: The pros and cons of life as an independent contractor”, https://thedo.osteopathic.org/2019/01/lone-wolf-the-pros-and-cons-of-life-as-an-independent-contractor/, January 16, 2019.

 

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