How COVID-19 Has Raised Interest in Locum Tenens Jobs

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 tenens industry.

Temporary changes 

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?

Your 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?

Your risk 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?

Insurance coverage. Does your agency offer good malpractice insurance, including tail coverage, which you may need to have later on?

Contract 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 hiring.

“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 shortage 

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.

Related:

What Is Locum Tenens? 
9 Reasons to Consider Locum Tenens  
Physicians’ 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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