It’s no secret that physician shortages are on the rise. Shortfalls span most specialties, and oncologists are especially affected. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) projects a shortage of more than 2,500 oncologists by 2020, concurrent with a 40 percent growth in demand for oncologist services.
These shortages are a national concern, according to Doximity’s 2018 National Oncologists Workforce Study, which examined retirement risk of oncologists across the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The study revealed that in half of those areas, more than 20 percent of practicing oncologists are over the age of 65.
The bad news, of course, is that physician shortages can negatively affect patient care and lead to physician burnout. Medical oncologist Dr. Peter Mancusi-Ungaro has seen this firsthand. “I’ve been a physician for more than 50 years. I see many, many physicians in permanent positions getting frustrated with the unrelenting pace of practice. They want more control of their time,” he says.
The locum tenens solution
The good news is that locum tenens may provide the perfect solution. “I retired more than four years ago, but began taking locum tenens opportunities because I wanted to continue seeing patients,” Dr. Ungaro continues. “Since then I’ve been working about three weeks on and one week off, which has been ideal for me. I get the time off that I want, and I am in control of my own schedule.”
Dr. Ungaro has been on a repeat assignment for the last two-and-a-half years. “Going back to the same place over and over allows me to maintain a relationship with my patients, which is important in oncology. I’m able to develop interpersonal relationships that last and continue over time. And with so many patients facing cancer in the United States, locum tenens providers are a necessary part of the equation.”
Medical oncologist Dr. Steven Paul also values the patient relationships he is able to maintain through his locum tenens work. Dr. Paul switched from private practice to locum tenens almost three years ago, when headaches with insurance companies and Medicare became overwhelming.
“I just wanted to focus on helping patients. Treating cancer patients as a locum tenens provider can sometimes be a challenge because I have to develop a rapport on the spot. But if I make sure I am very familiar with the patient’s history before I meet them, I give them immediate confidence in me, and all is well.”
Benefits of locum tenens practice
Locum tenens is a good career alternative for many medical oncologists. It offers the ability to focus on patient care without the distraction of administrative work or the stress of managing a clinic. Locum tenens medical oncologists enjoy a better work/life balance, since they are in control of their own schedule, which ensures enormous flexibility.
“I am glad to have escaped the pressure of running a private practice,” says Dr. Paul. “I don’t have to deal with billing and medical records and scheduling availability. I just take care of my patients, and I have had the good fortune to work with wonderful support staff. The nurses, the lab techs, and everyone else make sure I am comfortable and have what I need.”
Dr. Paul is also pleased with his schedule. “I am calling the shots. I work as often as I want and I take off as much time as I want. It is wonderful to have that independence.”
Medical oncology opportunities nationwide
“There are opportunities nationwide, with especially high demand in rural locations, where it can be harder to recruit for permanent positions,” says Stephen Black, a veteran consultant on Weatherby’s medical oncology team. “Since many facilities have an urgent need, locums are very appreciated by both the employers and the patients.”
That demand has made it easier for locum tenens providers to dictate their own terms. Plus, hourly pay rates have gone up significantly over the years, to nearly double what they were 10 years ago.