5 Reasons Why Doctors Choose Locum Tenens

Healthcare staffing experts share what providers want.
By Matthew Baade

Locum tenens is a Latin term that’s loosely translated to mean “one who takes the place of another.” This term came to be applied to physicians covering for one another in the 1970s. Since those early days, facilities have increasingly grown dependent on this temporary workforce of physicians, and the physicians have likewise found tremendous benefit and opportunity in a model that allows them to work when and where they want.

Now, more than 85% of healthcare facilities use locum tenens providers regularly, and by all accounts, we can expect that percentage to continue to rise.

Once considered an “alternative” model in the healthcare industry, locum tenens has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry offering a tremendous career opportunity for physicians — one that’s forecasted to have the highest compound annual growth rate in all of healthcare staffing over the next eight years.

Many providers cite scheduling as to why they choose a career in locums, while others say the advantage is in the variety. We asked several healthcare staffing experts for their insight and uncovered five main reasons why providers are drawn to work in this fast-growing healthcare profession.

No. 1: Flexibility
If the remote workforce has taught us anything, it’s that professionals want career flexibility and work-life balance—and locums tenens delivers exactly that. Providers can take assignments that last a few days or a few months—and select the ones that meet their professional and personal goals based on schedules and commitments.

“Some permanent staff doctors decide to move to locum tenens because they want to stay in medicine, but not at the same pace. Locum tenens represents the link between providing clinical care and a work-life balance,” explained John Moberly, Partner and Divisional Vice President of Anesthesia at Consilium Staffing. “Taking a locum tenens assignment for three months, then taking the next three months off, is very appealing to doctors who have been working exhausting hours with no end in sight.”

Ricky Moses, Partner and Regional Vice President of Behavioral Health North at Consilium, says burnout is a real threat for providers with arduous schedules. Locums assignments can give them a much needed break.

“Perm providers often work more than 40 hours per week,” he said, “and at times, they aren’t compensated accordingly.”

No. 2: Patient-centric Practices
Permanent providers spend much of their time on operational, leadership, and administrative duties, handling what Moberly refers to as the “business of medicine:” slow paying health insurance companies, Medicare payment delays, and rising cost of malpractice insurance.

By contrast, locums providers can work outside of those essential bureaucratic duties to focus solely on patient-centric practices.

“They’re not responsible for the extra administrative work or staff meetings,” explained Landon Webb, Partner and Regional Vice President of Account Management at Consilium Staffing. “They’re simply there to provide medical care, and that can be a welcome reprieve for many.”

No. 3: Extra Income
Depending on the practice and specialty, locums positions can pay higher on an hourly rate as compared to salaried positions. In addition, Webb said the flexibility of locums work means providers can pick up extra shifts or assignments to make additional income or save up vacation time in order to help provide medical care to underserved areas.

No. 4: Try Before You Buy
Locums empowers providers to take a “try before you buy” approach, Webb said. Providers can try out different settings—urgent care, community healthy, or even corrections medicine— before selecting a permanent career.

Locums also provides the opportunity for providers to try out different practice areas that can shape their career focus, and experience various geographic locations before putting down roots.

In terms of location, Webb said that coastal areas and mountain regions are the most commonly requested places to work, but many providers are also feeling the pull to help in rural and underserved areas.

And in addition to setting and geographic location, a locums opportunity allows physicians the chance to work with a new a new team on every new assignment, Moberly explained. This variety helps to expand their healthcare experience, broaden the professional network, and add interest to the work day—all of which can be tremendously insightful before settling down in to a long-term employed position.

No. 5: Fulfillment
Sure, it’s nice to be appreciated. And while providers aren’t in the business for the accolades, it’s fulfilling to know you’re being called upon to help solve a specific need.

Locums providers are also heavily used in underserved areas, where healthcare providers and practices areas can be limited.

“Permanent providers … at times don’t feel appreciated,” Moses said, “They like the idea of being considered a blessing or lifesaver in a contract position.”

Locums Jobs Are Here to Stay
Locums has seen tremendous growth since those early days in the 1970s. Today, experts cite anesthesia, primary care, surgical-based specialties, and behavioral health as practice areas with the increasing demand.

While the nimble model offered by locums has certainly provided an advantage for healthcare facilities, doctors remain at the heart of why locum tenens has become such a sought-after profession.

“The last several years have certainly magnified the flexibility that locum tenens offers,” Webb said. “Many providers are taking advantage of the opportunity to temporarily try out a different setting or geographic area before making a more permanent transition.”

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