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The Pros and Cons of Locum Tenens

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Healthcare is a dynamically changing field, and the delivery of care is constantly evolving as patient safety and the mental health of providers become core principles that are disrupting traditional models.
 
A study by Grandview Research revealed that the global healthcare staffing market was valued at USD 31.8 billion in 2019 and is expected to register a CAGR of 5.4 percent from 2020 to 2027. With this, there is a gradual shift away from full-time specialists or hospitalist providers as physicians embrace the idea of locum tenens positions.
 
Locum Tenens means “to hold the place of'' and the term has been suitably used for physicians who provide clinical experience at different locations, or organizations through short-term assignments, primarily to fill the gaps in service left by caregivers who are traveling, have retired, or leave organizations. The added travel opportunities and flexible schedules are attracting both physicians and nurses, further boosting the market growth.
 
According to a Staff Care Survey, backed by the Joint Commission International between 2002 and 2016, the number of U.S. physicians working in locum tenens positions almost doubled, reaching 48,000, while 94 percent of healthcare organizations worked with contract physicians in 2016. These factors are anticipated to significantly boost the demand for healthcare staffing in the U.S.
 

Pros and Cons of Locum Tenens_Blog


The value of locum tenens staffing was demonstrated clearly during the 2020 COVID 19 pandemic. With the rising caseload, hospitals had to look at getting more clinicians on their workforce, either to serve the onslaught of COVID patients or to provide relief to their permanent staff.
 
The Pros of the Locum Tenens Route
 
  1. Controlling the Calendar: 
Locum tenens physicians have the freedom and flexibility to choose their assignments giving them more control over when and where they work. They can travel and work at the same time as well as the option to take on telework enabling them to stay safe and work from home, especially when COVID hit. 
 
  1. Battling Burnout:
Physician burnout has become an epidemic within the medical community, with physicians experiencing exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of helplessness, often not due to patient loads or complexity of their cases, but because of the administrative tasks that they have to deal with, when part of a healthcare organization.  A study from Stanford University School of Medicine stated that out of 6,695 physicians surveyed, 3,574, around 55 percent of the respondents reported symptoms of burnout. This has prompted the community to take stock of the current gaps in the workflows that lead to burnout and prioritize physician well-being.
 
Locum tenens work then looks like the perfect solution for physicians who are overwhelmed with the daily grind and need to step away from their heavy schedules, while at the same time staying in touch with medical practice. It provides a way to earn while taking the time to rest and recuperate, as physicians try to regain the work-life balance required for their mental health. 
 
  1. Starting a Side Hustle:
Physicians can also use locum tenens work to augment their income from their permanent positions. Locum tenens physicians can typically charge more pay per hour/ per day for last minute or emergency positions to fill. The flexibility provided to a locum physician also enables them to invest their time and energy into voluntary or passion projects, like starting a parallel business, personal practice, or a medical mission to rural areas. The extra income also helps to pay off student loans or achieve financial goals. 
 
  1. Ready for Retirement:
For physicians who are looking to slow down their practice but are not ready to lose touch with medicine altogether, locum tenens positions seem like the perfect transition, and even allows physicians to work part-time after retirement. 
 
But all that glitters is not gold! Here are a few aspects of locum tenens work that physicians should be wary of. 
 
The Cons of Locum Tenens 

  1. Negotiating Terms and Conditions:
Locum tenens physicians typically go through an agency or an intermediary to get assignments. Contract review, privileging and licensing, and malpractice insurance are all aspects that a locum tenens physician should be aware of before taking on assignments.
 
  1. Minimizing the cut:
The staffing agency typically takes a cut to cover their administrative costs and locum tenens physicians should be aware of the value of their services, as well as what they end up with, in hand. 

  1. Building your benefits:
Insurance schemes provided by permanent positions may not be available for physicians who are only working as locum tenens. They should then investigate acquiring their health, dental, and life insurance as well as a retirement plan. 

  1. New job, new systems:
Temporary work assignments can be frustrating as the processes and systems at various facilities will differ. There is a lack of stability and the learning curve is steep. Adapting to the social culture of the new environment is also a challenge. Many organizations won't pay attention to the advice or inputs of a locum tenens physician, knowing that they won't be around for very long. 

 
With the 2020 COVID 19 pandemic, the popularity of the gig economy is spreading in healthcare, and the locum tenens path may end up becoming more mainstream. 
Locum tenens positions have a lot to offer to physicians, but they should go in with their eyes open, and ready to take on the challenges that come with these roles. 



The Pros and Cons of Locum Tenens
Dr. Lakshmi Vaswani

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