Amid reports of physician burn-out and an impending shortage of providers in the very near future, one area of medicine that is experiencing positive growth is locum tenens. Defined as “one temporarily taking the place of another,” locum tenens roles in medicine are generally physicians or other providers, such as nurse practitioners or physician assistants, who take on temporary roles to “fill in” for absent providers or meet a specific short-term clinical staffing need.
Locum Tenens numbers on the rise
In their 2016 biennial survey of physicians, Merritt Hawkins and the Physicians Foundation found that 11.5% of physicians said they planned to take locum tenens assignments, compared to 9% in 2014. Medscape notes that this would mean the number of locum tenens doctors could soon be nearly double the 6% of all doctors who now work in locum tenens positions.
What’s the appeal of locum tenens assignments for physicians? Freedom, variety, the opportunity to travel, and increased income potential are just a few of the perks of the locum tenens life – all of which appeal to physicians at various stages of their lives and careers.
Young doctors exploring options
For residents and physicians deciding where to eventually “settle down,” locum tenens offers an opportunity to gain clinical experience, sample life in various parts of the country, and potentially earn extra money while paying off student loans. Anne Anderson of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO) notes, “We’re getting more residents, especially millennials, who want to travel and work differently than other generations. They see locums as a way that can meet some of their personal goals.”
According to Medscape, locum tenens doctors can earn “almost as much doing the same work or less, even in a rural locale, as one can in a full-time position at a clinic, group practice, or hospital in a major city. If you’re willing to work overtime, you can earn significantly more.” This is a highly attractive option for residents and new physicians eager to pay down tens of thousands of dollars in medical school debt.
Mid-career doctors seeking balance
The Merritt Hawkins and the Physicians Foundation survey found that 49% of physicians “often or always experience feelings of burn-out.” There comes a time when working very long days with no break in sight conflicts with a physician’s desire to balance time with family or other outside interests. Medscape notes, “Being able to achieve a good work/life balance is a major appeal of locum work for many doctors.”
Certain types of locum tenens opportunities can provide that balance. Locum tenens physicians may also choose to work an assignment, then take time off (to travel, to care for family, or to pursue other interests) before the next assignment. Locum tenens assignments can also provide a break in the monotony of practicing the same type of medicine for many years, allowing the physician to explore a new area or even give their career a new direction. Additionally, for a physician who has taken extended time off to raise their children or care for an ailing relative, locums work can help smooth the transition back into the workforce.
Pre-retirees ready to slow down – but not bow out
Seasoned physicians who want to continue their practice of medicine – but at a reduced pace – may find locum tenens is a good way to transition into retirement. A temporary or “fill-in” role can be less intense than the ongoing workload of a full-time physician with his or her own practice. Locum tenens assignments have a definite “end,” so physicians can plan their assignments as they choose, perhaps with longer breaks in between roles. Many pre-retirees also view locum tenens work as an opportunity to “give back” in ways they may not have been able to during their full-time career, such as providing care in an underserved community.
Trends in the US workforce show that individuals are seeking more flexibility and freedom – and that seems to apply to physicians as well. Locum tenens work offers doctors in all stages of their careers an appealing way to achieve personal goals while still serving patients.
Sources: Healthcaredive.com, Medscape.com