The healthcare industry is constantly evolving and facing new challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the aging population, and the shortage of physicians. In this context, many healthcare professionals are opting for a different way of working: locum tenens. Locum tenens is the practice of temporarily filling in for another clinician at a healthcare facility. Locum tenens careers are on the rise, as more physicians and advanced practitioners are choosing this flexible and rewarding option. The healthcare sector is witnessing a significant shift in the employment patterns of physicians. The trend towards short-term locum tenens assignments has seen a dramatic increase, with an 88% rise since 2015. In this article, we will explore why it is so appealing, what are the reasons for its growth, and what are the implications and future of this trend.
Locum tenens is a form of temporary staffing that allows healthcare professionals to work in different settings and locations, according to their preferences and availability. Locum tenens can be a short-term or long-term assignment, ranging from a few days to a few months, or even longer. It can also be a way of transitioning to a permanent position, or a supplement to a regular job. It can be done by any type of clinician, such as physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and psychologists.
Locum tenens is appealing for many reasons, such as:
- Flexibility: Locum tenens allows clinicians to have more control over their schedule, workload, and location. They can choose when, where, and how much they want to work and take breaks or vacations as they wish. Locum tenens can also explore different practice settings and specialties, and gain exposure to diverse patient populations and clinical challenges.
- Compensation: When it comes to compensation there are competitive pay rates, depending on the specialty, location, and demand. Locum tenens can also provide additional benefits, such as travel and housing expenses, malpractice insurance, and credentialing assistance. Locum tenens can help clinicians earn extra income, pay off debt, or save for retirement.
- Satisfaction: Locum tenens can enhance the professional and personal satisfaction of clinicians, by reducing the stress and burnout associated with permanent positions, such as administrative tasks, bureaucracy, and politics. This allows clinicians to pursue their passions, hobbies, and interests outside of work, and achieve a better work-life balance.
Locum tenens careers are on the rise, as more clinicians and healthcare facilities are recognizing the benefits of this model. The number of physicians working as locum tenens increased from 37,000 in 2016 to 48,000 in 2019, representing 6.6% of the active physician workforce. 85% of healthcare facility managers used locum tenens physicians in 2019, up from 72% in 2012. It’s estimated that 7% of the total physician population, which equates to approximately 50,000 physicians, have undertaken at least one locum tenens assignment in the past year. A majority of physicians who have experienced locum tenens, precisely 59%, embarked on their first assignment within 10 years of completing their medical training. While an increasing number of early-career physicians are opting for locum tenens assignments for a better work/life balance, the largest segment of the current locum tenens workforce is still comprised of mid- to late-career physicians aged over 45.
Some of the factors contributing to the rise of locum tenens careers are:
- Physician shortage: The U.S. is facing a serious and growing shortage of physicians, especially in primary care, rural areas, and underserved communities. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. could see a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. This creates a high demand for locum tenens clinicians, who can help fill the gaps and provide access to quality care for patients who need it.
- COVID-19 pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the healthcare industry, and has accelerated the adoption of locum tenens. The pandemic has increased the need for locum tenens clinicians, who can provide surge capacity, relief, and support for overstretched and overwhelmed healthcare facilities and staff. The pandemic has also increased the availability of locum tenens clinicians, who utilize the increased flexibility, mobility, and telehealth options that locum tenens offers.
- Generational shifts: The demographics and preferences of the healthcare workforce are changing, as more millennials and Generation Z enter the field, and more baby boomers retire or reduce their hours. These younger generations of clinicians tend to value flexibility, autonomy, diversity, and technology more than their predecessors and are more likely to pursue locum tenens careers. 94% of millennial physicians said they are interested in working as locum tenens, compared to 57% of baby boomer physicians.
The rise of locum tenens careers has significant implications for the healthcare industry, as well as for the clinicians, facilities, and patients involved. Some of the implications are:
- Quality of care: Locum tenens can improve the quality of care, by ensuring that patients have access to qualified and experienced clinicians, who can provide continuity of care, reduce wait times, and prevent errors and complications. They can also improve the quality of care, by allowing clinicians to work in optimal conditions, where they can focus on their patients, avoid burnout, and update their skills and knowledge.
- Cost-effectiveness: Locum tenens can reduce the costs of healthcare, by saving facilities the expenses and hassles of training, and retaining permanent staff, especially in hard-to-fill positions and locations. This can reduce the costs of healthcare, by preventing revenue losses, increasing productivity, and optimizing resource utilization.
- Innovation: Locum tenens can foster innovation, by facilitating the exchange of ideas, best practices, and feedback among clinicians and facilities, who can learn from each other and improve their performance and outcomes. The infrastructure of locum tenens can also foster innovation, by enabling the adoption and integration of new technologies, such as telehealth, artificial intelligence, and digital health, which can enhance the delivery and accessibility of care.
The future of locum tenens careers looks bright, as the trend is expected to continue and expand in the coming years. According to a survey by The Physicians Foundation, 12% of physicians plan to seek locum tenens positions in the next one to three years, up from 7% in 2018. This suggests that locum tenens will play a key role in the future of healthcare, as more clinicians and facilities embrace this flexible and innovative model.