By Jennifer Larson, contributor Sep 28, 2020
When everything around you has changed, are you more likely to make
changes in your own career? Specifically, has the pandemic affected the desire
of physicians and advanced practitioners to investigate locum tenens jobs as an
alternative going forward?
Many are expressing renewed interest—especially because of recent
upheavals in their employment or practice situation.
Prior to the pandemic, locum tenens physicians were in high demand. A
report released in February 2020 by StaffCare noted that 85 percent of
hospitals and other healthcare facilities were using locum tenens physicians in
some form or fashion. Many were also using locum tenens nurse practitioners and
physician assistants, too.
When the pandemic hit, some units and facilities were inundated with
cases and needed extra staff to care for patients.
Meanwhile many patients with nonurgent conditions stayed home to avoid
exposure to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. As a result, hospitals, health
systems and medical practices saw their revenues decline sharply. Some were compelled
to furlough staff, reduce hours and/or shuffle staff around. As a result, the
pandemic has also had an impact on the locum
As the numbers of COVID-19 infections climbed, some healthcare
organizations cut back on the number of job openings or even reduced staffing,
trying to save money. Meanwhile, some locum tenens physicians chose to scale
back or even stop their work while the pandemic was ongoing.
Family medicine physician Steven Gordon, MD, was one of them. Gordon went
to Northern British Columbia several times over the course of three years to do
locums work. He loved the adventure.
But at age 70, Gordon wasn’t comfortable with the risk of leaving home
to work during the pandemic. He temporarily suspended his locums work. Currently,
he’s providing patient care for an organization via telemedicine. Like many
locums physicians, he has licenses to practice in multiple states (the current
total is six), which has definitely come in handy for practicing telemedicine. And
he’s enjoying the flexibility of working from home.
But Gordon could see himself resuming locum tenens work in the future,
when the pandemic has ended.
“Locum tenens is such a wonderful learning experience because you can
see what works in terms of practice management,” he says. “You can see the wide
variety of medical culture and that there are different ways of doing things.”
Thinking about locum tenens work?
Depending on your situation, you may be contemplating a locum tenens
gig now or in the near future. The pay and opportunities can be excellent,
while giving you control over when and where you work. If you are considering a
locum tenens job, you may want to weigh these factors:
Location. Where do you feel comfortable taking a locums assignment? Would you prefer to
stick closer to home, or do you want to try living in a new area of the country?
family. Can you take your loved ones with you, or do you need to stay close
to your current home for an easy commute?
Or do you have more flexibility?
factors. Do you have any health conditions or risk factors that might be an
issue in a new location or work setting?
Benefits. What kind of benefits are you eligible for?
coverage. Does your agency offer good malpractice
insurance, including tail coverage, which you may need to have later on?
terms. While locum contracts may look the same, every employer can have
different stipulations about overtime, guaranteed hours, bonus payments, etc.
Always be sure you read and understand all the fine print, and ask
plenty of questions.
If you’re not quite ready to sign on for a locums job or you’re waiting
to see what new opportunities open up, you could consider pro re nata, or PRN work,
which means working on “as needed” basis.
It might be a good way to get your foot in the door with a particular
organization, says Katie Jarvis, MD, a family medicine physician who works as a
hospitalist in Texas. They’ll get to know you, and when they ramp up their
hiring again, you may be near the top of their list.
If you do happen to be job hunting, either on a direct-hire basis or
through a locum tenens agency, consider the culture of the organization who’s
“Look for opportunities that are committed to team-based care,”
suggests Jean Moore, DrPH, director of the Center for
Health Workforce Studies at the School of Public Health at the
University at Albany, SUNY. “I honestly think that’s our future.”
Predictions of an ongoing physician
One thing is certain: the physician shortage that was well-documented
prior to the pandemic has not gone away.
The Association of American Medical Colleges’ recent
report on physician supply and demand used data that was collected prior to
the pandemic, but was forecasting a shortage of 21,400 to 55,200 primary care
physicians by 2033, as well as a shortage of non-primary care specialists that
could range between 33,700 and 86,700. The report also noted that the pandemic
will likely have both short- and long-term consequences on the physician
workforce, including how medicine is practiced and how the workforce retires or
ends their practice.
Reasons to Consider Locum Tenens
Jobs Impacted by Hospital Finances from COVID-19
STAFF CARE places physicians
and advanced practitioners in premier locum tenens jobs across the U.S.
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