Like all professional tracks, the caregiving side of healthcare has some great aspects and some not-so-great ones. Stress, a sense of stagnation, and extremely long hours — all of which have been linked to professional burnout — are just three of numerous problems highly motivated, highly skilled health professionals must routinely face, and they all lead to questions about the larger healthcare industry: Is it the career that causes the problems or the model built around it? Are the drawbacks worth the field’s many upsides? And most importantly, what can physicians and advanced-practice clinicians do to enjoy more of the good and less of the bad?
Increasingly, locum tenens appears to provide a viable answer to the concerns raised by that final question. The model, which sends qualified professionals to work temporary engagements in clinical settings across the country, eschews many of the trappings of a standard healthcare career, taking with it a number of healthcare-related problems once thought unavoidable. If the downsides are making you question a field you love, consider the following common problems and the ways locum tenens work helps providers avoid them:
1. Professional Stagnation
At some point, everyone grows a little (or a lot!) tired of the workplace they’ve committed to. It’s a common problem in any career and a particularly large problem in healthcare: The same setting, same rotating cast of patients, same problems, and same conditions treated can add to a growing, numbing sense of week-in-week-out sameness.
With locum tenens, meanwhile, variety is the name of the game. The average assignment can last anywhere from a day to a year or more, with the locum having ultimate say in the postings they accept and decline. Considering this, the ability to treat new people in a new setting with a new way of doing things is a perfect way to combat the sense of stagnation that can come with a permanent role.
2. “Bad” Stress
As mentioned above, some level of stress is an inherent part of working. It can even be a good source of motivation in the right context. It’s just as clear, however, that there are good and bad sources in the healthcare world, and working as a locum can help you avoid a lot of the latter.
Much of this benefit comes from the temporary nature of the work and the locum agency’s role as a buffer. Where bad-stress problems in a traditional job would generally require the professional to “go up against” the same people cutting the checks, the rare problem a clinician does encounter is easy to ignore knowing the posting is temporary. Larger issues, meanwhile, can be brought to the agency, which has a direct interest in keeping its providers happy.
Of course, it should be noted that the vast majority of locum postings send clinicians to locations, colleagues, and supervisors who are easy to work with; indeed, most veteran locums will tell you the people you meet are extremely grateful for your presence. In that rare moment when disagreements do arise, however, having a locum agency at your back is invaluable.
3. Long Hours
To some degree, intense scheduling practices are an unavoidable part of the healthcare lifestyle. It’s also a downside most professionals are hardened against from the first days of clinicals/residency/early professional work. And while everyone deals with the intensities of healthcare scheduling in their own way, it’s important to note that locum work won’t necessarily introduce you to jobs with shorter shifts or lighter schedules — instead, it lets you set your own availability, a considerable perk on its own.
Here, the difference is in the model. While you generally show up when the scheduler tells you to at a standard job, a locum decides when they’re open to take assignments and when they aren’t. Want to take a month off after a particularly brutal stretch? Need a specific week off during a historical scheduling “blackout” period (the holidays, for instance)? In situations like these and countless others, a locum gets to decide what scheduled availability works best for them, an excellent counter to the rigors of a standard healthcare schedule.
4. Insurance Company Headaches
Insurance is a necessary part of the healthcare chain and an undeniable hassle for clinicians. Disagreements over payment, waiting for payment, coding, and about a million other insurance-influenced areas of modern healthcare equate to undue stress for clinicians, who must either deal with the problems themselves or wait on dedicated staff to do the same.
Not so as a locum. Besides tending to make more on the hour than a permanent-practice clinician, people in locum roles are paid directly from the agency. In practice, this means locums make what they make and receive it when they’re supposed to receive it. That’s a significant step up from waiting for disbursement or deciding whether that $35 mistake is worth an hour-plus of bickering on the phone.
Combined, these benefits add up to a career track that reduces some of the industry’s longest-standing problems and outright negates others, undoubtedly a reason so many clinicians have chosen locum tenens over permanent-placement roles. If problems have you second-guessing your career choices (or you’d just like to make a change before they do), consider reaching out to a recruiter — chances are you’ll like what they have to say.