The locum tenens model of providing medical care has been around since the early 20th century. It wasn’t until the late 1970s though that locum tenens staffing agencies began popping up. The locum tenens world was very different back then. Indeed, a lot has changed over the four decades since.
If you are with a healthcare facility that has utilized locums in the past, know that your facility is not alone. The vast majority of America’s hospitals, walk-in clinics, and after-hours providers contract with locums at least once or twice per year. Many of them have locums coming and going year-round.
Given the prevalence of locums in modern healthcare, it might be interesting to look back at how the industry has changed since the 1970s. Here are four things to think about:
1. The Reputation of Locum Tenens
Back in the early 1970s, locum tenens doctors had a poor reputation. Whether true or not, hospitals viewed locums as doctors that had to work on a contract basis because they were either unable to keep their own practices together or, for some undisclosed reason, were unemployable. This led to a general perception that the quality of care provided by locums was not equal to that of private practice owners or employed hospitalists.
Today that poor reputation is a thing of the past, at least for the most part. The locum tenens industry has established itself as one staffed by competent, quality doctors who provide equal or better care.
2. The Number of Locum Doctors
Forty years ago, the number of doctors working locum tenens assignments was relatively small. Actually encountering a locum in the workplace was out of the ordinary. Time has changed this reality as well. More doctors than ever before are taking locum assignments; some full-time and others part-time. It is nearly impossible to go into any hospital or group practice these days without running into at least one locum.
3. The Number of Full-Time Locums
Along with the number of total locum doctors is a commensurate increase in the number who have chosen locum work as a full-time career. Full-time locum tenens appears to be especially attractive among young doctors who, for whatever reason, have decided they do not want to go the traditional employment route.
Staffing agencies and recruiters are seizing on this new wave of young doctors by explaining to them all the benefits of a locum career. They are attracting young doctors with good pay and benefits, flexible schedules, travel, paid malpractice insurance, and other fringe benefits.
4. Salary and Benefits
Rest assured that the salary and benefits of locum tenens employment have improved over the last 40+ years as well. Locum doctors in 2017 tend to earn more than their employed counterparts when you combine salary, paid travel and lodging, and paid malpractice insurance. The doctor who does not bother to maintain a full-time home could work as a locum and put almost everything he or she earns right in his/her pocket.
Staffing agencies are also competing aggressively by offering very good benefits packages. It is not unheard of for locums to get full medical and dental benefits along with access to retirement plans and other perks.
Locum tenens employment has come a long way since the 1970s. That is a good thing, given the current doctor and nurse shortages the U.S. healthcare system is facing. We need more locums to keep it all going as well. If it weren’t for the men and women who embrace locum tenens work, healthcare delivery in this country would be a very different matter.