Three Myths of Locum Tenens Staffing

The changes being forced on the healthcare system due to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act are profound, to say the least. Among those changes is the reality that now a very large number of Americans will have access to healthcare services. These are patients who rarely used doctors’ offices and hospitals in the past. This new influx of patients is, understandably, causing fears of inadequate care due to staffing shortages. One solution is to employ locum tenens doctors and nurses until permanent staff positions can be filled.

Unfortunately, the idea of locum tenens staffing often carries with it negative connotations. What’s more, those negative connotations are unnecessary. They are fueled largely by myths that developed back in the late 1990s and have persisted ever since.

Locum Doctor

The top three myths of locum tenens staffing are:

Locums Are Less Skilled Than Staff Workers

Both healthcare facilities and staff professionals are known to view locums as less skilled and less capable of performing to standards. First of all, it is simply not true. Some estimates suggest as many as 35% of locum doctors and nurses are retirees who have already worked a full career spanning 30 years or more. That hardly qualifies as inadequate or lacking in skill.

Among the remainder of locums, some are new professionals just getting started while others are career locums or former staff practitioners looking for new permanent positions. However, even the new doctors and nurses have at least a year or more of clinical practice under the belts. They have the skills necessary to provide good patient care. It just may seem like they don’t because they are not used to a new work environment.

Locums Staffing Is Too Expensive

The hospital administrator trying to plug staffing holes may resist locum staffing because of a misplaced belief that it is too expensive. It’s actually not. Using locums is comparable in most cases, when you consider the entire compensation package involved with a staff worker. What’s more, inadequate staffing may force your facility to turn away some patients, thereby limiting revenue.

If it is a question of being able to provide top-notch care at full capacity or having to turn away patients for lack of staffing, hiring locum tenens staffing is better financially. Refusing to use locums could cost your facility in the long run. And yes, it is possible to save with locums in some cases.

Locums Get the Worst Schedules and Assignments

From the standpoint of the nurse or doctor, the most persistent myth is one of locums always getting the worst schedules and assignments. Actually, there was some truth to this idea when the whole locum industry got its start 20 years ago. However, it is no longer true for the most part.

Healthcare facilities and staffing agencies began to understand during the last decade that scheduling and assignments for locums needed to be reconsidered if they hoped to grow the industry. They have bent over backwards to ensure that locums are treated no differently than staff workers in this regard. There may be some assignments where your scheduling may be problematic, but most locums find this is the exception rather than the rule.

Locum tenens staffing will play an important role in handling the influx of new patients over the next several years. Moreover, with all the changes coming to the healthcare sector, these next few years could be a pivotal time for the locum sector. It is an opportunity for locums all over the country to prove they can be an asset to any healthcare provider.

Five Personalities in the World of Locum Tenens

When the topic of locum tenens work comes up in medical school, many a budding doctor thinks to him or herself, “what kind of person would want to work as a locum?” It is a reasonable question given the paradigm we are so used to in the American healthcare system. Knowing the answer to that question might very well be the key to deciding whether locum work is right for you or not.

Locum Doctor

The KevinMD blog lists four different types of individuals who tend to take work as locum physicians. In our experience, there are actually five. We like to refer to them as “personalities”:

1. Retired Doctors

It is not uncommon for a physician to retire from full-time practice while still wanting to be involved in clinical work in some way. Locum tenens work makes that entirely possible. The retired doctor can work occasional assignments based on what makes them happy, without having to commit to a grueling schedule and all of the pressures that come from the business side of medicine. It is the perfect way to mix a career one loves with the rest and relaxation he or she has earned.

2. New Doctors

The opportunity to work as a locum allows new doctors to see what is out there before deciding on a permanent career. Locum work is a great way to check out different locales, figure out what kind of working environment you are most suited to, and determine whether your chosen specialty truly is what you are looking for. If you go right from your residency into a permanent staff position, you might find any dissatisfaction with your work a bit more complicated.

3. Part-Timers

The part-time locum physician is what KevinMD refers to as the “dabbler.” These are doctors who need to supplement their income but also need to be mindful of family and other responsibilities. They may take short term, temporary assignments available within a reasonable distance from their homes; assignments that allow them to continue their full-time work while also bringing in a little extra.

4. Lifers

The lifers are those who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, decide to make an entire career out of locum tenens work. And trust us when we say there are plenty who do just that. Locum tenens recruiters like Vista Staffing work with lifers all the time. If you enjoy travel, new challenges, professional adventure and a constantly changing work environment, you may be a prime candidate to become a lifer. It is definitely a valid career choice that many doctors are embracing.

5. Problem Doctors

This last personality is probably one you do not want to be associated with. Nonetheless, there are some locums who find themselves having to work this way because they tend to cause problems in the facilities where they work. Such tendencies make them unemployable as permanent staff doctors. If this description fits you, you have the option of continuing with locum work or figuring out how to solve whatever problems you are dealing with.

So what is your personality? Are you the type of person that would thrive as a locum, either temporarily or permanently? If so, Vista Staffing is interested in speaking with you. There is plenty of work out there for any and all who want it.

Getting Started As a Locum Tenens Physician

Working as a locum tenens physician is similar to working as a staff physician in some ways, but remarkably different in others. Yet before you ever report for your first day on the job, one of the major differences you will have already been exposed to is the way in which you obtain work.

Obviously, the staff physician deals with a recruiting agency or directly with his or her future employer to go through the application, interview, and credentialing process. Locums do things differently. Being hired as a locum requires a completely different approach.

locum tenens physician

So, how do you get started as a locum tenens physician? Here is a basic rundown:

Research Staffing Agencies

Before you even think about making contact with staffing agencies, it is a good idea to do some research. Find out the names and contact information on the agencies best suited to your interests, specialty, and geographic location. Also, make sure to ask others you know who might already be actively involved with locums. Find out which agencies are the best. The National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO) is a good place to start.

Online discussion boards are another great resource because they allow you to find out what other medical professionals have to say. However, take such discussions with a grain of salt. The nature of the Internet suggests that negative comments usually far outpace positive ones due to the fact that satisfied individuals are less motivated to go online and make their opinions known.

Interview Your Agencies

The biggest difference between looking for work as a staff physician and signing on as a locum is the interview process. As a future locum tenens physician, you are interviewing staffing agencies as much as they are interviewing you. Your meetings with recruiters should be approached as such.

In the same way that the staffing agencies will want to know what you have to offer, you also need to know what they have to offer. It is a good idea to write your questions down ahead of time so that you’ll know exactly what to ask during each interview. Do not be afraid to ask for details either. The more you know about agencies and the people you will be working with, the better prepared you will be to make good decisions.

There is also no need to limit yourself to a single agency. Industry experts suggest you sign on with anywhere from three to five agencies. This gives you the greatest access to the types of assignments you are hoping to get.

Submit Your Paperwork

Once you have chosen the agencies you want to work with, the last step is to submit the required paperwork. You will need to provide a complete and accurate CV, copies of your certificates and licenses, and at least three professional references. The professional references should come from other physicians you have already worked with.

It is important to make sure you have all of this documentation put together before you begin the interview process. If an agency has to wait for you to get it together, you might be giving them the impression you are not ready to get to work. Be prepared to immediately hand them a package in the event your interview turns out exceptionally well.

Once you sign a contract with a given agency, you will be ready to start choosing assignments. That is when you will begin to learn what being a locum is all about. If you’ve chosen your agencies well, you will be on your way to a satisfying and rewarding career.