Examining Increased Use Of Temporary Surgeons

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined how an "exodus" from the field of general surgery is "creating a growing market for temporary surgeons-for-hire." The number of general surgeons per capita has declined by 25% over the last 25 years, according to a study published earlier this year in the Archives of Surgery. Rural US especially suffers from surgeon shortages. The "increasingly grueling schedules, shrinking payments and the temptation of more profitable surgical niches have made the field less attractive," according to the Journal.

In addition, it is now "one of the few fields where the absolute number of surgeons is actually shrinking," the Journal reports.


General surgery is among the fastest-growing areas of a temporary medical staffing industry and is expected to double to $2.1 billion in 2009 from five years ago, according to staffing agency Locumtenens.com. Medical staffing agencies estimate that at least one in 20 of the 17,000 general surgeons in the U.S. is working full or part time on a temporary basis. Full-time temporary surgeons can earn $250,000 or more annually, which in some cases is nearly twice as much as in a private practice largely because they do not have overhead costs.

Hiring a temporary surgeon can be costly for hospitals. Hospitals pay between $650 and $900 daily for the physician and between $650 and $900 daily to the staffing agency, according to Staff Care, a medical staffing firm. Hospitals also must pay for travel and lodging for the temporary surgeon. Critics have raised safety concerns regarding the patient's follow-up care with a family physician and the visiting surgeon's lack of familiarity with the patient and hospital staff (Furhmans, Wall Street Journal, 1/13).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.