How the locum tenens model offers work-life balance to providers + operational agility to healthcare organizations

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospitals and health systems turned to locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners to help meet the increased demand for patient care.

Locums positions allow organizations to be more flexible in the face of dynamic market conditions. They are also an attractive career alternative for providers.

Becker's Healthcare recently spoke with Anne Anderson, executive vice president at Jackson + Coker — and a national expert on locum tenens — about unique opportunities these positions offer to physicians and advanced practitioners, at all career stages. 

When used strategically, locum tenens can improve healthcare organizations' agility 

Although hospitals and health systems are under tremendous financial pressure to cut expenses, they also see that high demand for patient care isn't going away. In response, many organizations are hiring locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners to help meet the need, reduce the backlog of elective surgeries, care for chronic conditions, alleviate provider burnout, and more.

"Physicians and advanced practice providers are revenue sources," Anderson said. "This is different from other types of staff that are cost centers. Not only do healthcare leaders have to look at the cost of a locums provider, they also must consider the cost of not hiring one." 

In the wake of COVID-19, many hospitals and health systems have come to recognize the immense value of locum tenens staff. In the past, locum tenens physicians were considered as less qualified or skilled than permanent staff.  However, since all physicians working in a healthcare organization are subject to the same credentialing requirements the quality of locum tenens is the same as full-time providers. 

An effective locum tenens strategy enables healthcare organizations to be agile and pivot their workforce. Locums providers are a good option, for example, in areas with seasonal population surges, like resort areas. Locum tenens is also an ideal fit for cyclical health events like flu season. 

"Locums are also a great way for hospitals and health systems to conduct a proof of concept for a new service line," Anderson said. "If the concept is financially viable, locum physicians can stay until full-time staff members are hired, or sometimes locum physicians are hired into those positions. It's like a working interview for the providers."

With locum tenens assignments, providers are in complete control of their careers

Locums providers have great flexibility over where and when they practice. This often includes the geography where they choose to work and the days and times. For providers who don't want to travel, telehealth is increasingly a great alternative. Physicians and advanced practitioners don't even have to leave  home for these telehealth assignments. If providers are licensed in a particular state, they can treat patients across state lines via telehealth or through in-person locum positions. 

"Many healthcare providers use locums positions to augment their income," Anderson said. "As highly trained professionals, they are treated as independent contractors. There are tremendous opportunities, and they're only going to grow. It's all up to the individual's personal preferences."  

Locums assignments are attractive for providers, no matter their career stage. These positions enable recent graduates of residency programs to work in different communities and organizations, while paying off medical school debt. For mid-career physicians and advanced practitioners, locum tenens is a way to supplement income or test out a new organization or type of work. 

"Locums positions are ideal for preventing resume gaps, if a physician or advanced practitioner is between jobs," Anderson said. "During the credentialing process, if a provider has a gap of more than three months, most healthcare organizations will really dig into that. For people who retire young, locums offers a way to maintain skills and earn retirement income while living in a new location or closer to children and grandchildren."

Although locum tenens assignments used to be primarily in rural hospitals and health systems, these positions are now available in a wide range of locations and organizations. For example, Jackson + Coker has placed physicians and advanced practitioners in locums positions in governmental agencies like the Indian Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as at correctional facilities, military bases, with cruise lines, and more. 

In the current post-pandemic climate, burnout rates and the increasing physician shortage affect healthcare organizations of all sizes, settings, and needs. This meansthe number of locum tenens positions is only expected to grow in the U.S. and its territories. "There's tremendous demand for physicians and advanced practitioners," Anderson said. "Locum tenens is ideal for providers who want greater flexibility in their lives, more time with family or for travel or who simply want to try a different type of flexible work environment."

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