The Rise of the Flexible Staffing Model - business person with finger on graphic of people icon.

The Rise of Flexible Staffing Models in 2023: Innovations, Challenges, and the Projected Future of Locum Tenens

The concept of flexible staffing models in healthcare isn’t new. However, for many healthcare facilities, especially rural and remote ones like the ones we staff, flexible staffing models aren’t just an option, they are a necessity. In this article, we’ll dig deep into the flexible staffing model, including innovations and trends, challenges, and the future of this type of staffing model for the healthcare industry.

What is a Flexible Staffing Model?

A flexible staffing model allows healthcare organizations to adapt their provider pool based on their staffing needs, demands, and changing circumstances. This typically means that healthcare providers may be contracted temporarily vs. added to the payroll as full-time or even part-time employees. Utilizing a flexible staffing model can assist with covering staffing needs of varying lengths.

Often in healthcare, flexible staffing models and locum tenens go hand in hand. Locum tenens allow this type of staffing model to work since these healthcare providers will work temporarily, typically as contractors, to fill openings that may otherwise go unfilled.

Flexible staffing models can assist in many ways. Especially in rural and remote locations, where it can be difficult to find full-time providers, locum tenens can create a full provider rotation, perhaps with multiple APPs or physicians returning to the same location multiple times a year. Locum tenens providers can be scheduled back-to-back to create the equivalent of a full-time position, where it may be otherwise left open to be filled by a permanent provider. This can create continuity of care for patients in underserved areas and fill workforce shortages. It can also attract healthcare providers to areas where their specialty skills can be utilized.

For traveling healthcare providers, it can be a win-win scenario. They can pick and choose where and when they would like to work, travel to places they may not otherwise get to visit and create a better work-life balance. All these factors can play a large role in avoiding provider burnout.

However, the landscape of flexible staffing models is changing. The way things were done 10 or even five years ago isn’t the same as they are done now. The COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of new technological advances are changing the world of healthcare faster than we sometimes feel like we can keep up.

Innovations and Trends in Flexible Staffing Models

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the workforce for healthcare professionals. The ASPE, Office of Health Policy states that “the COVID-19 pandemic put extreme stress on the health care workforce in the United States, leading to workforce shortages as well as increased health care worker burnout, exhaustion, and trauma.”

Additionally, during the pandemic, many hospitals reported critical staffing shortages. While there were concerns among healthcare professionals regarding their mental health, the public health crisis escalated these concerns.

While we are settling into a post-pandemic phase at the time of writing this article, the pandemic contributed to many healthcare providers retiring due to burnout or leaving their jobs, with many not returning.

Flexible staffing models can provide a way for healthcare providers to continue providing medical care, but in a way that can often be on their own terms – allowing them the flexibility to choose when and where they work. Many of the locum tenens providers we work with will work for a duration of time and then take a break, during the summer, for instance, to relax and recharge. The competitive pay that often comes with being a locum tenens allows them a bit of flexibility with how frequently they work, sometimes with the option to take more time off than they might in a full-time position.


Locum Tenens TelelhealthThe concept of telehealth isn’t new. According to an article from the National Library of Medicine, telemedicine has been used in clinical settings since the beginning of the 1900s. Since the 1920s, the radio has been used for giving medical advice to clinics on ships. The article specifically mentions the use of telehealth in rural areas in Alaska, just like the ones we staff.

While telehealth has been around for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated its use. At a time when the public was advised to stay home to avoid getting the highly contagious virus, telehealth was a technological advancement that allowed medical care to be delivered without possible exposure.

According to the ASPE, Office of Health Policy, telehealth usage consistently remained above 20% from 2021-2022 for all population groups. Telehealth offers many advantages including not having to travel to your doctor, especially when you’re sick. It can be easier to schedule an appointment, with many appointments being available on the same day. Telehealth can help to avoid spreading diseases and illnesses. Additionally, it can be helpful if additional family members can join the appointment from the comfort of home.

For patients in rural and remote areas, telehealth can save hours in travel time, allow for visits with a medical professional to take place sooner, and gives them access to high-quality care with simple technology.

Telehealth isn’t without its barriers, however. There are regulatory and legal issues that telehealth faces. Some patients run into technical difficulties, and if a physical examination or other testing is necessary for treatment, telehealth can be problematic.

Healthcare Provider Shortages

An unfortunate trend in healthcare currently is a shortage of healthcare professionals. The AAMC states that the “United States could see a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.”

The primary reasons for these shortages of providers include a growing population and a large portion of the population aging, and therefore potentially needing more medical care. Part of that aging population includes healthcare workers, meaning they are retiring, as well. Some healthcare providers are choosing to retire earlier, due to continued burnout. Many providers are also looking for a better work-life balance, which may change how they traditionally have worked in the past.

With fewer providers in the healthcare field, the need for flexible staffing models is greater than it once was. Having temporary healthcare providers fill the gaps in coverage in both urban and rural settings is often necessary to provide care for patients.

Challenges in Implementing Flexible Staffing Models

Credentialing and Licensing

While the need to recruit and staff locum tenens to healthcare facilities is rising, doing so isn’t always a straightforward process. Often, healthcare administrators are facing urgent needs to fill holes in schedules – perhaps a provider became ill, or the facility has an uptick in patients. The biggest hurdles that can slow down getting providers into positions are credentialing and licensing.

Without compacts for NPs or PAs, most providers need to have a license in every state that they intend to work in. This can not only be costly, but it can also be very time-consuming. We’ve seen licensing from certain states take over three months to process, which can be a big hold-up to getting a qualified provider into a job.

Additionally, providers need to be credentialed at the facility where they will be working. This process can also take several weeks to months to get through, once again holding up providers from starting in a position. Because credentialing is done using primary source verification, getting sources for verification for documentation can be a tedious and time-consuming process.

In a digital age, utilizing efficient systems can help to streamline some of these processes. For instance, it can be helpful for healthcare providers to keep digital copies of all their degrees, certifications, registrations, etc. on an easily accessible computer or phone. Updating them with new versions regularly is also helpful.

For healthcare facilities, utilizing centralized staffing platforms and digital systems for credentialing can be useful. Allowing licensing to be done fully online can also save time vs. using snail mail to send documentation.

Maintaining Continuity of Care

Continuity of CareKeeping healthcare close to home is important to patients and their families. Staffing locum providers can help alleviate patients having to drive long distances to see a healthcare provider.

One of the primary goals of including locum tenens into a flexible staffing model is to provide continuity of care for the patients of a community. As a new provider, though, getting acclimated to a new facility can take a while. Every facility has different processes, software, staff members, patients, and more, so joining as a new team member can take some adjustment.

While maintaining continuity of care can be a challenge, it’s far from impossible, and many locum tenens providers are very used to adapting to new and changing environments. Working at facilities where they have put thought and planning into onboarding and orientation, EHR training, outlining a patient handoff process, and communicating clearly can make this transition run smoothly to preclude any hurdles.

Integrating Locum Tenens into Existing Systems

While many times welcoming a locum tenens provider into a facility is a welcome change, on some occasions staff may be somewhat hesitant about new providers joining the team. Change can be difficult, and working with revolving locum tenens often requires a certain amount of change.

It can also be a bit of a culture shock for the locum tenens if they are not accustomed to the new location where they will work. Differences in lifestyle from weather to new cultures can all require some adaptation from new locum tenens providers. However, for those who are willing to soak it all in and be adaptable, it can be very rewarding to become accepted into a new community.

The Projected Future of Locum Tenens for 2023-2024

Increasing Demand for Locum Tenens

According to Locumpedia, when locum tenens industry experts were surveyed, “respondents agreed universally that demand for locum tenens clinicians will increase as 2023 progresses – and that the number of physicians and APPs seeking locum tenens assignments will continue to increase this year.”

In rural and remote areas, the demand can be even greater as they can face additional challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled healthcare providers. Permanent providers may be hesitant to move to extremely rural areas, which can be far from the amenities that a city can provide. These communities, however, are still equally as deserving of healthcare as their urban counterparts, which locum tenens can assist in providing.

Since healthcare provider shortages are only expected to get worse, as discussed previously, temporary healthcare workers are here to stay. Working with healthcare facilities and administrators who understand the benefits of flexible staffing models can be beneficial for the healthcare landscape overall.

Technological Advancements

flexible staffing model and aiWhile flexible staffing models grow in popularity, other factors will change the landscape of healthcare and staffing, as well. Technological advancements will be one to watch. We’ve already discussed a few throughout this article, such as telehealth, online credentialing, and EHR systems. You can bet that more mobile applications will be popping up to support flexible staffing, assisting with things like tracking hours, submitting time sheets, and even finding employment opportunities.

We’d be remiss to ignore how AI will take shape in the healthcare industry. AI can be used for data analysis, helping to find trends in patient data. When onboarding providers to new facilities, having an overview of the existing patient landscape will be helpful. It will also assist with helping to match candidates with jobs, making it easier for healthcare facilities and staffing agencies to pair the right providers with the right opportunities.

Continued education is also shifting so much of it can be done virtually. Doing so can help to keep healthcare provider certifications up to date, which in turn, can potentially land them jobs faster.

Workforce Flexibility and Job Satisfaction

Flexible staffing models allow for more flexibility for healthcare facilities and healthcare providers. For locum tenens, this type of staffing model allows them to choose when and where to work and have opportunities to travel to places they may not have considered. Locum tenens assignments offer more adventure and the chance to be immersed in different cultures and communities. This type of work can also be high-paying, allowing for more availability to take time off in between assignments.

Most of the providers we work with have high job satisfaction scores upon completing assignments, typically rating them 8-10 out of 10. The involvement in the local communities and being able to practice “meaningful medicine,” are often reasons stated for their overall satisfaction with assignments.

Even for providers who are looking for full-time work, locum tenens opportunities can be a great way to try a facility and learn more about an area before making a full-time commitment.


The flexible staffing model will be around for a while based on the key points we’ve outlined in this article. While innovations and trends are emerging in various areas of the healthcare industry and staffing overall, flexible staffing helps to combat some of the biggest challenges currently facing healthcare administrators and providers.

For healthcare providers and organizations who are willing to adapt, keep up as new trends emerge, and continuously seek ways to improve healthcare for patients, flexible staffing will likely be a driving force in keeping the outlook of healthcare moving forward.

Could creating a career around a flexible staffing model be the right move for you? Talk to a recruiter to find out. If you’re a healthcare facility and you think a flexible staffing model could be right for you, reach out to our team.

Learn more about locum tenens