Escape Hospital Politics With Locum Tenens

Posted on: August 17, 2016

written by

Jess Huckins

Locum tenens work offers clinicians a way out of the petty squabbles, backstabbing, and Machiavellian machinations that color hospital politics. Yes, these things are present in practically every care facility, but the advantage of going locum is that you don't have to care.

Let the full-time doctors, nurses, and staff do their best imitation of a 16th-century Italian court. Locum physicians have bigger priorities — namely, treating patients. Physicians interested in pursuing locum work shouldn't let the idea of new hospital politics dissuade them. Locums isn't a plunge into hospital politics — it's an escape from them.

Hospital Politics Fuel Burnout

The 2016 Medscape Lifestyle Report offers a profound echo of other recent national surveys, as well as our own survey. They all strongly suggest that burnout among physicians nationwide has reached critical mass. Critical care, urology, and emergency medicine are the specialties with the highest percentages of burnout, all at 55 percent. These numbers are disturbing.

Perhaps what’s most surprising are the reasons. Respondents were asked to rate each cause on a scale of 1–7, with 1 representing little influence and 7 indicating significant sway.

An overload of bureaucratic tasks was by far the biggest cause of burnout, with a rating of 4.84. Spending too many hours at work wasn't far behind, at 4.14. A bit further down were the causes that drive many clinicians to look for options outside of traditional care facilities: too many patient appointments (3.4), irritating colleagues or staff (2.97), and a difficult employer (2.83).

Unlike bureaucratic tasks, which are likely to remain level across facilities, burnout triggers such as burdensome appointments, an aggravating environment, and issues with employers can often be solved with a change of location.

Simply moving may not be enough, though. Many healthcare practitioners have found that the real solution lies in locum tenens.

How Locum Tenens Can Help

Locum tenens is catching on because it is a temporary arrangement during which clinicians can focus on doing what they do best: practice medicine. In recent years, locum tenens has shifted from a path for older providers in the twilight of their careers to one increasingly appealing to younger medical professionals.

Last year, Medscape reported that the percentage of locum clinicians aged 61 years or older fell from 45.1 percent in 2012 to 35.6 percent in 2014. The percentage of clinicians (including physician assistants and nurse practitioners) aged 40 years or younger, meanwhile, effectively doubled from 6.9 percent to 14 percent in the same time frame.

Calling locum tenens a youth movement may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not a total one. Consider the fact that the percentage of physicians choosing to enter locum tenens directly out of medical school also rose between 2012 and 2014, from 14.3 percent to 21 percent. Mid-career moves to locums are catching on as well, up to 54.7 percent of physicians in 2012.

What lies at the root of this movement? Career burnout obviously plays an important role for older physicians, whether they’re in the middle of their careers or are ready to wind down. But the amount of young clinicians choosing to go the locum route indicates burnout isn’t the only factor.

For more on the changing attitudes that have healthcare practitioners across all ages and career paths exploring locum tenens options, read our article about job uncertainty.

There's No Need to Get Political

The benefits of being a locums provider are clearly appealing to those who have never had to deal with days crammed with overlapping appointments, or flawed hospital management, or contentious hospital politics. That may be the point. Younger physicians are looking to avoid these perils of traditional hospital work. Older physicians want to leave them behind.

Study after study shows that unofficial workplace socializing is one of the biggest professional distractions. Politics also drag down morale and push the notion of hospital loyalty out of consideration. That's where locum tenens steps in.

By its very nature, locum tenens work allows physicians to ignore hospital politics. These are not permanent assignments. There's no need to lay a groundwork for promotion, or to give serious thought to fellow clinicians’ personal agendas. Locums work offers diplomacy with an autonomous bent — practitioners are there to work well with their peers, but not join them. In fact, meeting new people was an oft-cited benefit in our recent provider survey.

Locums' short-term scope (usually weeks or months) helps clinicians avoid gossip and workday arguments. Job performance is all that matters. Practitioners arrive to do a specific job for a specific length of time, and then depart for the next assignment. It's easy to see why the profession holds such appeal for people of all ages.

"Many productive people don't do well when jerked into full retirement, and I have the best of both worlds: steady, satisfying work, on my terms of time and intensity, predictable income, and freedom from government/insurance company machinations and hospital political intrigues," Dr. Duane Gainsburg, a neurosurgeon, told "When at home, I have the freedom to not answer the phone, the certainty that the concert or nice restaurant meal or the weekend away won't be interrupted."

You've Earned It: Do What Makes You Happy

Locum tenens gives clinicians the chance to preserve their love of medicine — not to mention their own health, mental and physical — in a role that rewards their knowledge, talent, compassion, and ability to adapt quickly and effectively. There's paid-for travel to enjoy, a lucrative salary, freedom and flexibility, and no responsibilities such as teaching or staff management.

Perhaps best of all, locums work offers an escape from the grind of hospital politics. Clinicians who want to emphasize on great care — and great care alone — will find it with locums.

Sound appealing? Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of locum tenens vs. full-time work in healthcare. If you have any questions, tweet us @bartonlocums.

About Jess Huckins

Jess Huckins was formerly the managing editor at Barton Associates’ Peabody, MA, headquarters. She joined Barton after nearly a decade of professional editing in the publishing, marketing, and healthcare fields, and she holds a master's degree in publishing and writing. 

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