Physician recruitment is more difficult than ever in today’s healthcare labor market, requiring many healthcare organizations to bring on locum tenens providers to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, competition is also fierce for the top locum tenens talent. You may know exactly what you need in a locum tenens physician, but do you know what the physicians are looking for in a locum tenens opportunity? Knowing what physicians want will give you the edge to attract the best locum tenens physicians and get the coverage you need.
We talked to three experienced locum tenens physicians to learn what they are looking for in a locums job. Here are five key takeaways on how to attract the best locum tenens physicians to work for your organization.
1. Understand why physicians are working locum tenens
If you’re not offering the type of locum opportunities that physicians are seeking, you’ll have a harder time attracting them. That’s why it’s important to understand why a physician might choose to work locum tenens in the first place.
A great many locum physicians are drawn to locum tenens for the lifestyle. When this is the case, “we’re going to be very picky about where we’re going and the reason we’re going there,” explains Dr. Sonya Sloan, an orthopedic surgeon and author of The Rules of Medicine: A Medical Professional’s Guide for Success. “When my recruiter comes to me, he knows not to put anything in front of me like, ‘Dr. Sloan, this is for three months.’ He know better, that’s not going to happen,” she says.
Making money is another significant motivator for many locums physicians. “The rate is important because when I do locums, its hard work…it’s a lot of traveling. So I like to make my time worth it and make the most I can. I try to pick places that are busier so I can do overtime,” says physiatrist Dr. Mojgan Sabre.
That’s one reason it’s important not to nickel and dime locum physicians. “It tells me you don’t value me, my time, my skill set, all the things that I do, and it makes me less likely to be positive about my own presence in the experience,” says OB/GYN Dr. Shrylena Bogard.
2. Make locums feel welcome
How locum tenens physicians are treated when they first walk in the door can make or break their experience. At one facility, recalls Dr. Sloan, “They gave me a folder that had an itinerary for everything you had to do to onboard. There was a person that walked me from person to person so there was no way I got lost or couldn’t figure it out. And then once I was practicing in clinic, they would make sure that anyone who needed to know who I was had my picture and my phone number. It was the little things that made it easier for me to walk into a large facility.”
Dr. Bogard has been going back to one facility for over four years as a locums provider, and she says a good onboarding process when she first arrived helped ensure a positive experience. “It was as though I was a regular staff physician coming in, where I had the full EMR training, and so it really made the transition great — so much so that they kept asking me to come,” she says. “It’s been a very positive long-term relationship.”
3. Set locums up for success
When Dr. Bogard starts a new assignment, she says, “I want to know specifically about the support system in the facility. Because obstetrics can be rough, the support system at the facility really makes or breaks the assignment for me.”
Working at an unfamiliar facility often means learning new software and processes. Dr. Sabre recalls an organization that offered a half day of training before the assignment actually started. “Other places, they give you an hour and then you’re in. It’s kind of hard, because it gets stressful the first couple of days,” she says. Having enough time to really learn the systems eases that stress, “so I don’t have to go at 7 a.m. to a quick training and then go be on call.”
Adequate training helps make the assignment a good experience, says Dr. Sabre — one that she was happy to repeat.
4. Clarify expectations up front
If the facility, the agency, and the locum tenens physician are not on the same page, the experience can go sour fast — for everyone involved. Dr. Sloan recalls an assignment where “something was lost in translation with how the offboarding was supposed to be.”
As she was leaving the facility after a long, weekend shift, “I’m ready to go home and this person wanted me to round like I was a resident. He was like, ‘Meet me at 7. We’re going to round and let me check the patients,’” she says. “And I was like, this is not what I signed up for, this is not in the contract. So just be clear of the expectations.”
5. Make sure the job description matches the job
Unclear or inaccurate job descriptions can make locums physicians feel blindsided. “I’ve had a position where the position itself was misrepresented by the facility,” says Dr. Bogard, who works primarily as an obstetrics hospitalist laborist. “One particular facility had decided that they wanted the OB doctor to cover the women’s emergency department, which just makes me an ER doctor and I wasn’t doing any deliveries. I’m a laborist, and that’s what my contract says.”
Dr. Bogard stuck it out for three days, but then told them she wouldn’t be back. “There needs to be clarity in the job description, what’s expected of the physician, and when the facility does not hold up their end of that and the physician says, ‘This is something I’m not willing to do,’ take them at face value,” she says.
Dr. Sabre notes that there can be nuances in what specialists do and don’t do, what their actual role is, making it crucial for hospital recruiters to truly understand what they’re recruiting for. “So, my recommendation is if you’re working with a certain specialty, it would be nice to know about those. If you’re working with a doctor, you can always ask them. When it’s my specialty, if you ask me I’ll tell you all about it — what we do and what we don’t want to do.”
Keep the best locums coming back
Whether you need short-term coverage, to fill the gap while working to fill an open position, or are trying to grow an expanding program, nearly every healthcare facility needs locum tenens providers at some point. Giving locum tenens physicians what they are looking for will help you attract the best locum tenens physicians to your facilities. And it will keep them coming back again and again when you need more help. They may even decide to make the arrangement permanent.
Dr. Bogard, Dr. Saber, and Dr. Sloan shared additional insights on what locum physicians are looking for during a panel session of the 2022 annual conference of the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR). Session recordings are available for purchase here.