The conversation around locum tenens is changing. I'm going to date myself here, but I've been talking to physicians about temporary assignments for almost 20 years. When I first started at CompHealth, the toughest part of my job was just explaining what locum tenens meant.
Most doctors had no idea that hospitals and other facilities were willing to bring them on for a weekend, a week, or month — or that there were staffing agencies out there that would take care of all the logistics, from booking the travel and accommodations to covering the malpractice insurance.
It's different now. The last report I saw said more than 90 percent of doctors know what locum tenens is — and nine out of 10 physicians report having a positive impression of it. Now that people understand the what of locum tenens, I spend much more time talking to doctors about the why behind it.
There are now around 40,000 physicians who work locum tenens assignments each year. Here are a few of the reasons why. (All of the numbers listed below come from www.locumstory.com.)
• Hospitals are hiring — It's tough to find a facility in the country that doesn't use locum physicians. In fact, 90 percent of U.S. facilities report hiring physicians for temporary assignments. There are openings in all 50 states, in just about every medical specialty. As more patients are covered by the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, the need will only continue to rise.
• It's a great way to try before you buy — After years of school and training, most recent graduates want to get into a permanent job as quickly as possible and start paying back those student loans. But we're seeing a new crop of graduates who aren't as anxious to sign a contract. Around 20 percent of residents are now working locum tenens right of training as a way to check out different practice settings and even different cities or states before settling down.
• Not everyone loves the business of medicine — Burnout is becoming a real problem for physicians. According to a recent Medscape survey, 46 percent of doctors say they've experience some form of burnout. A few of the reasons are too many bureaucratic tasks, too many appointments in a day, and too little work/life balance. Locum tenens physicians, however, are given the freedom to focus on patient care and avoid many of the administrative hassles that come along with being a doctor. It's not surprising that 80 percent of them say locum tenens is as rewarding — or even more rewarding — than a permanent position.
• Retirement age doesn't always mean plans for retirement — After years of training and decades of caring for patients, it's not easy to hang up the stethoscope. Nearly 70 percent of physicians ages 50 or older say they plan to work locum tenens after retirement. The flexible schedules allow doctors to work where and when they like. Many retired physicians take assignments near family members or take their spouse along, using the facility as a home base for weekend travel.
Now that physicians understand what locum tenens is, and they're discovering why it makes sense, there's just one question to ask. Why not?