Why locum tenens may be the perfect career now

For decades, physicians have engaged in locum tenens practice for a variety of reasons at different times throughout their careers. Newly minted residents unsure about where they want to settle or what type of practice setting they might enjoy use locum tenens as a way to explore options. Mid-career physicians take locum tenens engagements to see how other practices operate or when they are between permanent jobs. Semi-retired doctors enjoy that locum tenens allows them to keep a hand in medicine without the hassle of staying fully immersed in practice.

Today, given the unstable economy and that healthcare reform is under serious discussion in Washington, physicians are looking at locum tenens for new reasons. Here are a few scenarios that locum tenens agency recruiters are seeing unfold.

Trying out different practice settings. Reimbursement from Medicare and other third-party payers continues to decline in many areas of the country. Residents just out of training who think they would like to try going solo or small office (where it can be the most challenging to run a profitable practice) can use locum tenens to get a feel for both the clinical and business sides of practice in these settings. Some come away feeling the risk of being in a smaller practice is well worth the reward, while others decide they would rather work at a large, established organization for the security that might offer. Mid-career physicians facing the financial challenges of practicing in today's environment can use locum tenens to explore new options before taking down their shingle or leaving a group setting.

Waiting out a non-compete clause. Imagine that the group you are in is struggling financially and you want to move on before the bottom falls out. But there is a small problem. You and your family love the community you are in and you have a two-year non-compete clause. In this scenario, you might consider staying put on a personal level but moving on professionally by practicing locum tenens as close to home as possible until the non-compete clause expires. Then you would be free to open a practice or join another group in your community free of potential legal hassles.

Repairing a broken nest egg. Many doctors with retirement funds or other savings in market-driven investments (stocks and real estate, for example) have seen their account values plummet in recent years. While they hope those investments will inch their way back to health in the years to come, locum tenens is one way to replace recently realized losses.

Working even one weekend a month or one week a quarter adds up quickly when your daily pay rate averages $800 to $2,500 per day, depending on your specialty. Also, it is not uncommon today for physicians who have retired within the past five years to return to practice—locum tenens this time around—as a way to stretch their retirement savings dollars.

Paying down debt. In a shaky economy, physicians with a relatively small monthly "nut" tend to be less anxious about finances, both current and future. Consider supplementing your monthly income with a few locum tenens shifts and use the extra cash to pay off school loans, credit cards, a car, or even your mortgage. Check with a NALTO recruiter for opportunities relatively close to where you practice to make part-time locum tenens practice efficient and cost-effective.

Countering tight credit. Even for physicians, borrowing money for a new office building, home, or investment property is not as easy as it once was. Practicing locum tenens is a good way to accumulate extra money to use as a down payment on these types of purchases so that lenders look at your loan application with a kinder eye.

Returning to work. It is not unusual for physicians—particularly women—to take time away from the practice of medicine to start a family. In today's economy, some of these doctors are feeling the financial pinch and returning to work, at least part-time, a little earlier than they might have planned. Locum tenens is an excellent choice for physicians who want the flexibility to work around a busy family schedule.

Considering these scenarios should give you ideas about how locum tenens might work for you in today's challenging economy. This, too, shall pass. Until it does, physicians are in an excellent position to weather the storm.

Views and opinions expressed herein are those of NALTO and not necessarily those of Advanstar Communications Inc. or LocumLife.

About the Author

Karen Childress is a Colorado-based freelance healthcare writer currently crafting a series of articles on behalf of NALTO.

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