Sandeep K. Aggarwal, MD, shares how he explains exactly what he does as a locum tenens physician — and why it’s important to healthcare.
The world of locums is unfamiliar to many, even among healthcare providers. And when someone does decide to embark on a career in this segment of the healthcare industry, they often receive a barrage of questions from friends and family. What is it? Why are you doing it? Is it legitimate? To name just a few.
So what is this locum tenens thing, anyway?
The first task for anyone pursuing a career in locums — whether part-time or full-time — is to first understand the field as much as possible before attempting to explain it to anyone. At first, the concept can be somewhat daunting and even overwhelming — especially if the plan is to leave an existing practice to become a full-time locum provider. Part-time locums work — to test the waters while still working your regular job — may help to reduce the angst of leaving your comfort zone.
In general, the purpose of locums is to fill in on a temporary, part-time or full-time basis in shortage areas or to provide coverage when existing providers take time off (for maternity, vacations, illness, etc.) Locum tenens allows you to have some schedule flexibility and a steady income, while also providing the satisfaction of knowing you are filling a need.
What about paid time off?
With the demise of solo practice and loss of private groups, locums provides physicians with an alternative practice model that resembles the entrepreneurial spirit and autonomy many physicians enjoyed prior to the changes in healthcare that happened a decade ago.
One common question is about the loss of income during vacations, which is typically covered in an employed situation. One possible answer is that in solo practice, for example, there is also a loss of income when you take time off, but with locums there is no continuing overhead to pay while the provider is out of the office.
Is there job security?
With the advent of hospitals taking over physician practices leading to an employer/employee relationship, job security has become increasingly tenuous. Patient surveys and chart-keeping rules are a just a few of the measures that administration uses to discipline or lay off providers. Consequently, there is rapid physician turnover at hospital-owned clinics, which leads to instability and lack of patient continuity.
Of course, for locum tenens providers, there is always the possibility that the facility may no longer need a locum provider, which can lead to a stressful situation. Working with your recruiter and staying on top of alternate assignments — while maintaining licenses and credentials — are good ways to help mitigate this concern. The industry in general is rather capricious, but knowing this ahead of time can help address some of the uncertainty.
How do you make it work with your family?
Travel to different facilities is inherent to locums unless you are working locum assignments closer to home. This can be disruptive to the family and should be well thought out and discussed prior to embarking on a full-time or even part-time locum career. Some locum providers arrange for short stints or part-time work. Others have their spouses join them on assignment, which can be like having a second home and you can enjoy the community’s offerings after hours together.
Another common question is if locum tenens travel could result in a strain on a marriage. Consultants in business have worked in this capacity for years and have developed strategies to incorporate the family to help reduce marital strain. Some even say that having a break can be healthy for a marriage, especially for those who have been married for several decades.
Overall, there has to be an honest discussion between the locum provider and his or her family prior to considering this line of work. Only then can one attempt to explain — or even justify the rationale — to other family members and friends. In short, with so many changes in healthcare over the past ten years, locums tenens has become a viable career alternative for physicians.