"The most striking finding was this emphasis on a more controllable work schedule and flexibility, especially among women physicians," said Angelo Alonzo, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University.
"If more women physicians seek temporary jobs so they have less stressful lifestyles, it raises issues about the future of health care staffing."
Alonzo conducted the study with Arthur Simon, a physician with the Dean Health System in Madison, Wisc. Their results were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Healthcare Management.
Temporary staff physicians are known as locum tenens (LT), from the Latin "one holding a place." Hospitals, clinics and physician practices hire LTs to cover for vacations, short-term leaves and seasonal demand, as well as other reasons, such as shortages of various specialists.
Although the number of LT physicians is not known for sure, one LT placement firm estimated that 15 percent of all physicians worked locum tenens sometime during their career in 2000, up from 4 percent in 1987 nearly a four-fold increase.
Alonzo and Simon surveyed 776 physicians who worked at least one assignment with CompHealth, an LT placement agency in Salt Lake City. (CompHealth provided the names of those surveyed.)
While about 70 percent of those who responded to the survey were men, the findings suggest women may be particularly drawn to LT jobs, Alonzo said. Women were 30 percent of the LT group, but only account for 23 percent of active U.S. physicians.
For women, the top reason for choosing LT assignments (mentioned by 37 percent) was schedule flexibility.