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The Importance of Locum Tenens During a Crisis

by Patricia O. Urquiaga | Jul 11, 2022 | Physicians, candidates, Clinicians, covid-19, crisis, crisis plan, crisis plan recruiting strategy, future crisis, healthcare administrators, healthcare employers, healthcare organizations, healthcare providers, healthcare staffing, hire locum providers, hire locums, hiring locum tenens providers, hiring locums, hiring strategy, locum clinicians, locum physicians, locum providers, locum tenens, locum tenens candidates, locum tenens clinicians, locum tenens nurse practitioners, locum tenens physician assistant, locum tenens physicians, locum tenens providers, locums, medical facilities, medical providers, physician shortage, Recruiting Locum Tenens, staffing gaps
The Importance of Locum Tenens During a Crisis

Locum Tenens History and Background

The concept of locum tenens first began in the 1970s.

Locum tenens consists of physicians, physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) among other types of providers.

The term “locum tenens” means “to hold the place; or to substitute for” in Latin. In other words, locum providers fill in (or substitute) for other clinicians on a short or long-term basis.

Since the concept first began, locum tenens has increased steadily from 26,000 physicians in 2002 to over 56,000 today. Factors such as a high demand for clinical services, physician shortages and mergers and acquisitions (M&As) are a few of the reasons why demand has increased.

The Role of Locums Before/After COVID-19

During the COVID-19 outbreak, locums were hired across the nation to help healthcare facilities manage the spikes/surges of COVID-19 patients.

In fact, during the peak of the pandemic, 63% of locum physicians were stationed in New York City. 

So, how have locum tenens demonstrated value during a crisis?

Like staff, locums are ready to jump in and serve at a given moment, at any location. Locum tenens have proven to be invaluable during critical times, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, locum providers have been used to tackle the shortage and coverage gap issues. Finding the right person to fill key positions takes time. It’s not something that should be rushed. Utilizing locum tenens to fill staffing gaps temporarily gives healthcare recruiters more time to seek and hire the perfect candidate. When it comes to coverage gap, staff must go on vacation, sabbatical, maternity/paternity leave, extended leave of absence etc. Locums give healthcare facilities assurance. Assurance that they will have coverage and be able to provide quality care while staff is away.

Additionally, they’ve helped healthcare facilities grow and expand. Having locum providers on board gives organizations the opportunity to grow by offering more services. When it comes to expansion, most healthcare facilities hire locums at the beginning to get the operations moving. While this is in place, they shift focus to hiring a full-time staff, they are happy with. As previously mentioned, this is crucial especially since hiring and onboarding costs can be expensive.

The Benefits of Hiring Locums

Previously we discussed how locum tenens providers have demonstrated to be invaluable during and pre-COVID-19.

So, what other benefits do locums bring in?

Other benefits of hiring locum providers include their ability to:

  • Provide supplemental coverage during peak seasons
  • Improve patient satisfaction
  • Help balance workload for clinical teams
  • Bring relief to clinicians suffering from burnout, anxiety, stress etc.
  • Improve or maintain high employee engagement
  • Quickly adapt to new environments
  • Help healthcare facilities improve, and run more efficient operations
  • Increase overall revenue

For this and many more reasons, utilizing locum tenens is beneficial.

However, one thing that healthcare employers must not forget is that certain rules and guidelines must be followed when hiring locums in order to ensure proper reimbursement.

Locum Tenens and Future Crisis

How is your healthcare organization planning for the next crisis?

Will locum tenens be part of your hiring strategy?

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that life can be unexpected. To survive, healthcare organizations must pivot to the best of their abilities. We can all agree that in today’s world, remaining flexible is the basis of healthcare staffing.

Healthcare organizations must recognize and consider locum tenens physicians as part of their crisis plan recruiting strategy. Why?

Locum tenens clinicians are willing to travel during a crisis. This can help balance the current physician shortage and access to care issues. When planned effectively, there are many benefits to hiring locum tenens providers as discussed in the previous section.

When working with a healthcare recruiting agency like MASC Medical to hire locums, treat this as a strategic partnership. Establish trust, communicate effectively, and share your organizations goals from the beginning – that way you both work towards achieving that.

Before hiring it’s important for you as a healthcare organization to identify what your staffing needs are. These 3 steps can be utilized by hospitals, clinics, practices, and other facilities to gauge and identify your specific needs.

In the end, every organization will strive for permanent staffing. However, we must not lose sight that the physician shortage is growing. Also, that there will always be staffing shortages and use/need for temporary coverage.

So, take the first step and integrate locum tenens into your crisis plan recruitment strategy. This will ensure your healthcare organization is set up for success not only during a crisis.

Best Practices for Recruiting Locum Tenens

In today’s reality, locum tenens providers continue to play an important role in healthcare staffing.

Prepare for future crisis, overcome the physician shortage, and ensure coverage with these best practices for recruiting locum tenens.

  1. Be Proactive, Plan for the Future – The COVID-19 pandemic was not something anyone expected. It’s time we urge healthcare administrators to learn from this experience (if they haven’t done so). Ask yourselves – what were some struggles/challenges? What ran efficiently? Being able to do this type of exercise highlights opportunities for the future. It’s important to start planning for future crisis whether it be other pandemics or anything else that might come up. Don’t wait until a crisis occurs to have a plan in place. Also, don’t forget that your crisis plan should have a section for recruiting locums. COVID-19 showed us that medical facilities need supplemental coverage – and who better than for locums to step in.
  1. Maintain Healthcare Provider Quality – Healthcare staffing during a crisis can be overwhelming and chaotic. But it’s important to stay calm and not give in to hiring providers that cannot provide high-quality care to patients. Therefore, stick to your policies and procedures when hiring locums (i.e., source, screen, vet references and certifications etc.) Once hired, go through your onboarding process, whether it’s your traditional onboarding or a short-condensed version for locums. If you work with a healthcare staffing firm, make sure it’s a firm that’s honest, trustworthy, and communicative. Be proactive by reinforcing the type of locum tenens candidates you need. And don’t forget to mention the types of licenses, certifications, education, experience, skills etc. In the end, we recommend finding medical providers with past locum tenens experience. Locums should be able to step-in, be effective and efficient from the beginning.
  1. Maintain Cost – When hiring locum clinicians, make sure you are getting the clinicians you need at the best value (cost). This will allow your medical facility to still have resources to tackle other areas affected by the crisis. Keep in mind that staffing agencies have the ability to negotiate with healthcare providers. They can create flexible options that work for them and your facility. If you are hiring directly, apply these same rules.
  1. Keep Locum Clinicians Healthy and Happy – You’ve integrated locum clinicians into your recruiting strategy, have hired them, now what? Just as your full-time staff, you must take care of them. Keep your locums in the loop of what protocols are in place to keep them safe – especially during a pandemic. Taking care of your locum tenens providers doesn’t only mean their physical safety – this also includes their mental health. Ensure locums are aware of all the benefits your organization offers (i.e., life insurance, telehealth services, mental health counseling etc.) One good way to check-in and gauge your locum clinician’s engagement is by conducting satisfaction surveys. Take the time to do this and to use the data accordingly to make improvements. Lastly, as a locum one of the biggest benefits is a flexible schedule. Make sure your locums are enjoying their free time. Have employees show them around or give recommendations on things to explore such as restaurants, shops, museums etc. And don’t forget to remind them how important maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is – so promote exercising, healthy eating, etc.

Closing Thoughts

In today’s world, locum tenens providers are more important than ever.

They play a critical role when it comes to pandemics. But we’ve also learned they help combat the physician shortage and gap coverage issues.

Becoming a locum has great benefits for both the provider and the healthcare organization. Therefore, as you plan for future crisis, ensure that your recruitment plan includes locum tenens.

Locum assignments aren’t always associated with extensive travel.

If you are ready to find your next locum tenens assignment or are in search of locums to help with coverage gaps, call us at (305) 974-1538 or email us at info@mascmedical.com for a free consultation.

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