Locum tenens, Latin for “place holder,” refers to medical professionals who accept temporary assignments at medical facilities when there is a staffing shortage of available providers. The concept initially became popular in the late 1970s, and has continued to grow right along with the health care industry at large.
The healthcare industry is in the middle of a dire physician shortage, and the Association of American Medical Colleges is estimating thee shortage could reach 125,000 physicians by the year 2025. While there are many reasons why we are losing qualified providers, locum tenens has rapidly surfaced as the long-term solution to the problem. Here are three perspectives on how locum tenens is benefiting the industry.
The Provider’s Perspective
Physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals accept locums assignments for a variety of reasons. The industry provides an alternative to the conventional approach to practicing medicine, and it offers many unique benefits to those in the profession.
1. A Relief for “Burnout”
Long hours, high pressure to treat patients like an assembly line, and the inability to have a true family life creates heavy stress and what the industry refers to as “burnout.” Locum tenens opportunities can uniquely relieve that pressure by freeing medical providers to work when they choose, and see the patients they wish to see.
2. Practicing Medicine without the Business Responsibility
As one surgeon in Iowa recently put it, “Physicians aren’t businessmen, we got into medicine to treat patients.” Those working in the locum tenens field often report relief at not having to worry about the business side of medicine, such as dealing with insurance companies, collecting payment from patients, and managing staff members and employment matters.
While some providers choose to make locum tenens work their permanent home, the vast majority of providers accept assignments in order to supplement income in addition to their permanent positions. Student loan debt and the cost of running a practice don’t come cheaply, and the ability to use paid time off or other available time to create additional revenue streams has become one of the primary drivers behind locum tenens providers. For those who choose to work locum tenens on a more permanent basis, a fair and comparable compensation is available.
4. Exposure to Variety
Ask any medical professional around the country what they wish they could get more of, and one of the first responses you may get would be “meeting other providers who could help me grow my knowledge base.” Locum tenens providers are uniquely situated to meet and share experiences with other providers around the country. For example, assignments in different geographical regions may expose one to different kinds of people with varying types of ailments or health conditions. In addition, providers can seek out experiences with different approaches to medicine.
5. Easing into Retirement
Locum tenens also has perks for more seasoned medical professionals. For example, as some doctors near retirement age, they like to gradually reduce their workload rather than abruptly ending their careers. That can be difficult while trying to maintain a practice that’s been built over the course of a decades-long career. Working in a locum tenens position can afford more flexibility with hours, which would allow an older physician to slowly ease into retirement.
6. Balancing Family Life
As with older medical professionals, those trying to balance work and family responsibilities often need some flexibility. While part-time positions or intermittent work might otherwise be difficult to come by in the medical profession, locum tenens work can provide relief to parents and spouses who can’t seem to find enough quality time together.
The Institutional Perspective
Hospitals and medical facilities also benefit in a variety of ways from the growing popularity of locum tenens providers.
1. Opportunity for Smart Growth
Imagine you’re running a smaller medical practice that has grown to the point that you’ve started to turn away new patients. Your first instinct might be to just hire a new full-time doctor. Depending on the circumstances of your practice, your location, and the health care market in the area, that might be a hasty decision. However, if you retain the services of a locum tenens professional to offer patient support, you can test the waters to make sure that you really need another fulltime staff member before taking such a big step.
2. Recruitment Tool
Some hospitals recruit locum tenens physicians for short-term assignments to identity talent that they want on staff on a long-term basis.
3. Adapting to Changing Circumstances
In many areas, the healthcare industry faces shortages on a seasonal basis due to tourists or particular seasonal illnesses. To help manage patient overflow during these busier times, many hospitals and medical practices look to locum tenens professionals to help carry the heavier workload.
4. Providing Doctors a Well Deserved Break
Physicians are routinely identified as workaholics. A strong, if not excessive, work ethic can lead to a sense that you can’t make time for yourself, especially for solo practitioners. However, retaining a short-term locum tenens doctor can provide a busy physician with an opportunity for that elusive vacation without the feeling that they are abandoning their patients.
The Patient’s Perspective
Although the impact of the locum tenens trend may not be as transparent to patients, research suggests that patients do, in fact, benefit from the contribution of this sector of the medical profession. These practitioners help eliminate gaps in patient care. That’s particularly important given our nation’s current physician shortage. Locum tenens providers can ensure positive patient outcomes, with seamless transitions between medical professionals.
With all the changes occurring in the healthcare profession right now, locum tenens providers will likely continue to make a positive impact on the industry. At locum tenens agencies, like Weatherby Healthcare, the number one priority is to create win-win-win situations for providers, medical facilities, and patients.
Eric Ethington is the Content Manager for Weatherby Healthcare, a locum tenens physician staffing company. He has previously worked as a policy and communication expert for elected officials, and his writing has been featured throughout the national media. He is also the recipient of several national blogging awards, as well as best of states.