Why More Physicians Are Going Locum

Posted on: March 09, 2016

written by

Jess Huckins

The practice of medicine presents several difficulties: high stress, long hours, and expensive loans are all challenges with which many doctors are unfortunately familiar. As a response to these challenges, more and more physicians are taking the opportunity to work locum tenens.

From the Latin for "place holder" — and inarguably a more dignified title than "temp" — locum tenens allows physicians to provide temporary coverage at hospitals requiring their expertise to fill gaps in full-time caregivers’ schedules.

Though the program has been around since the early 1970s, more than half of the respondents in a September 2015 Physician's Weekly survey reported that they were still uncertain about the advantages of working temporary assignments. Some appeared to still be under the impression that locums was primarily for older doctors. That may once have been true, but no longer.

"Locum tenens appeals to retirees, mid-career physicians, and recent graduates equally."

Retirees, mid-career physicians, and recent graduates have all found it profitable. Those who don't mind traveling (think San Francisco in the summer, Miami in the winter) and who are open to adapting to a new hospital's idiosyncrasies and policies are particularly well-suited. But there is certainly no one type of physician for whom locums is best.

"Locums is the perfect way to test-drive a position, without actually binding yourself into a contract," one family medicine doctor told Physicians Practice. "It's an opportunity to see what else is out there [beyond] residency. Because, as much as they say it is, residency is not real-life medicine."

Locum physicians have a greater opportunity to pursue a wide variety of passions rather than being boxed into one particular specialty, but that's hardly the only benefit. Here are some others:

Earn Money on the Side

Locums' financial advantage is not to be underestimated. Between undergraduate loans, medical school debt, and often-modest starting salaries, the field of medicine can pose a number of financial challenges, especially to younger physicians. Working locum tenens is an excellent way to supplement an income.

According to MedPage Today, locums physicians can expect to make between 33 percent and 50 percent more in salary than traditional physicians. That includes professional liability insurance and the costs of housing and travel. Combine increased salary with the appeal of no administrative responsibilities or teaching obligations, and locums' stock rises further.

Gain Clinical Experience

More than one-third of the 500-plus physicians responding to a recent industry survey said that the chance to gain valuable clinical experience was one of their key reasons for going locum tenens. They have the right idea. 

"Getting exposed to different hospital systems, different patient populations, different peers who have different specialties and subspecialties has broadened my knowledge and made me better at what I do," Dr. Val Jones told Physician's Weekly.

These experiences enhance job skills, which can lead to lucrative opportunities to specialize down the road. Overall, going locum simply makes doctors better.

Stave Off Burnout

Long hours, persistent phone calls, and shifts ending with sunrise can take their toll on even the hardiest of physicians. Locum tenens provides some much-needed relief.

"The beauty of locum tenens is that I work really hard at an assignment for a couple weeks or a month. I may be tired at the end of it, but I know that I'm going to have a break," Dr. Monica Anselmetti told Physician's Weekly. "I can take the time I need to recover and go back to the next assignment recharged and happy to be with patients."

Many physicians report that locum tenens allows them to have a healthier and more balanced lifestyle because they no longer have to spend long, late hours poring over the logistical realities of private practice. Instead, their free time can be spent with family and friends, or pursuing hobbies.

Whatever the reasoning, more physicians are going locum, and the medical profession is healthier for it. An engaged, well-rested, and well-compensated physician is able to provide better and more thoughtful care, which benefits not only the provider, but also his or her patients.

What are your reasons for going locum? 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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