Healthcare Staffing Resources

How locum tenens can help prevent physician burnout

Physicians across the country are feeling the burden of burnout. Have your staff doctors voiced concerns about both treating patients and meeting administrative duties? Perhaps they have mentioned experiencing prolonged periods of exhaustion or a sense of disillusionment?

These are all indications of burnout, and study after study confirms that American physicians are feeling the strain at alarming rates.

Physician burnout increasing across specialties

In a 2021 study, Medscape reported that 42% of physicians surveyed said they were experiencing feelings of burnout. Critical care physicians reported the highest rate of burnout (51%) followed by rheumatologists (50%), and infectious disease specialists (49%). Other high risk specialties include urology (49%), pulmonary medicine (48%), neurology (47%), family medicine (47%), and internal medicine (46%).

Burnout poses the potential for some significant side effects. In the clinical setting, it can be associated with an increased risk of medical errors and lower patient satisfaction ratings. On a personal level, overwhelmed physicians may treat their condition with less-than-healthy options, such as greater alcohol consumption or even suicide.

Facilities beginning to address physician burnout

Many physicians perceive their employers are indifferent to the situation. According to an InCrowd survey, nearly 75% of primary care and emergency providers don’t believe their facilities do enough to identify, treat, or prevent professional burnout.

Until recently, burnout was predominantly viewed as a personal issue for physicians to cope with on their own. That’s beginning to change. In the past few years, several facilities and healthcare systems have launched programs to help staff members alleviate stress. Here are a few examples:

  • Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA: Pediatric residents at the Los Angeles hospital spend four months attending resilience training. The curriculum, which reflects a program the Pentagon developed for military families, helps participants identify and positively handle strong emotions that arise from tough medical cases.
  • Mount Sinai West: Multidisciplinary teams from the New York City facility’s cancer unit gather for a monthly breakfast. They share their perspectives and seek support from peers to deal with emotions tied to difficult medical events.

Additionally, the Academic Medicine journal published a study that promoted mindfulness training as a proactive tool to counteract burnout symptoms.

The locum tenens solution

Another strategy is hiring locum tenens professionals. Here are some reasons short-term staffing could lessen the likelihood of burnout among permanent staff members:

  • Encouraging time off. Vacations are a necessity. A week or two away from the workplace allows staff members to take their minds off the day-to-day tasks of running a practice or hospital unit. It’s an opportunity for them to relax and recharge. Locum tenens physicians provide employers the flexibility to grant staff well-earned vacations and maintain coverage.
  • Meeting demand. One of the contributing factors behind burnout is overwhelming caseloads and expanding administrative responsibilities. Then there are periods when the patient census spikes, adding even more pressure for doctors to care for as many patients as possible. Locum tenens physicians can absorb some of that workload. For example, if you anticipate a heavier-than-usual flu season, temporarily boost your staff to match the demand.
  • Focusing on medicine. Providers often say locum tenens allows them to concentrate on the medical aspects of being a doctor. This arrangement can work in staff physicians’ favor, too. If doctors can delegate more of their routine clinical duties to locum tenens providers, including physician assistants or nurses practitioners, they may have more time to focus on complex cases.
  • Encouraging professional development. People are more likely to be satisfied with their careers when they’re professionally advancing, like fulfilling continuing medical education requirements or conducting research. Locum tenens providers can step in if a staff doctor wants to take a sabbatical to pursue additional training.

As demand for healthcare services continues to grow, the risk of physician burnout will increase, too — but locum tenens providers can help relieve some of the burden.

Updated 10/25/21

About the author

Anne Baye Ericksen

Anne Baye Ericksen is a journalist and locum tenens subject-matter expert with more than two decades of experience. She was a regular contributor to LocumLife, Healthcare Traveler and Healthcare Staffing and Management Solutions magazines.