It is no secret that America’s hospitals are struggling to find doctors. Rural hospitals have it especially tough. Whether the blame rests with skewed perceptions or legitimate disadvantages to working in rural environments, hospitals in small towns and isolated communities have been struggling with staffing problems for years. Locum tenens may be part of the solution for a lot of them.
Locum tenens was seen as less than ideal back in the late 1970s and early 80s. Now though, locums are part of the mainstream. Survey data collected over the last couple of years proves as much. For example, Medscape reported early in 2017 that:
- 94% of U.S. facilities had employed locum tenens physicians within the previous year
- 47% of facilities were actively seeking locum tenens clinicians
- 48,000 doctors now work as locums, up from 26,000 in 2002.
There is little doubt among industry experts that locum tenens staffing is here to stay. It is no longer viewed as a way to practice for doctors and nurses who are incapable of doing anything else. Locum medicine now has a place on the table with its more traditional counterparts.
In a rural setting, there are three big reasons locum tenens is a perfect fit for struggling hospitals:
1. Locums Can Fill in For as Long as Necessary
Provided a rural hospital has a good relationship with its recruiting agencies, a steady supply of locum physicians can be counted on to fill staffing holes for as long as necessary. This is a tremendous help to administrators who often spend many long months facilitating a permanent hire.
The other side of that coin is the administrator who has a regular staff but no one to pick up the slack during peak times. Once again, locums are the answer. If a hospital only needs a locum hospitalist for three months, it is certainly doable.
2. Locums Are Usually Apolitical
Hospitals are environments with their own politics. It is just expected that doctors will clash as they jockey for power and position. The nice thing about locums is that they tend to be apolitical. They accept an assignment for one reason: they want to practice medicine. The temporary nature of their work means they rarely have a vested interest in the future of any particular hospital.
3. Locums Can Help Establish New Departments
Struggling rural hospitals often have difficulty opening new departments because they simply do not have the resources. Expecting a hospital to wait until it can land a permanent hire before expanding only inhibits establishing new departments harder. Locums address the problem nicely.
The rural hospital can bring on a few locum hospitalists to get things rolling in a new department. As those doctors go about their business, they are gradually building the department and its patient base. A strong and established department is a lot easier to recruit permanent hires for.
As an added benefit, new permanent hires do not come in worrying about a power struggle. They know that their arrival signals the departure of the locums, leaving them to make the department whatever they want it to be. Locum physicians are happy to act as placeholders until permanent hires arrive.
The locum tenens industry provides a vital service to hospitals all over the country. Rural hospitals struggling to meet staffing demands would do well to look to the locum industry for solutions. Locums are a perfect fit for rural medicine because they can fill in for as long as necessary, they can do so without the politics, and they can help make hospital expansion a reality.