Some medical professions have readily adopted locum tenens as part of the culture. Perhaps the most notable example is emergency medicine, where EM physicians routinely take on locum tenens positions either in their own hometown or as a travel opportunity. However, locum tenens practitioners are less common in some other specialties—not because the opportunities are any less desirable—but because the notion of locum tenens has not penetrated so far into the specialty’s ethos. Two examples of this are physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) and pain management. Nevertheless, there are several compelling reasons for physicians in both of these specialties to consider working as a locum tenens professional.
1. Combat physician burnout
PM&R has the third-highest burnout rate among all specialties. While the reasons for burnout are the same as in other specialties—work-life imbalance, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, etc.—practitioners in PM&R and pain management suffer much higher than average rates of burnout. Locum tenens offers a unique and powerful way for physicians to take back some control over their practice parameters. Locum tenens physicians are often able to set their own schedule and hours, creating the work-life balance that best fits their needs. Indeed, something as simple as changing venue or zip code is enough to break the daily rut of clinical medicine.
2. Substantially less “paperwork” than a staff position
“Paperwork,” or electronic documentation, is the bane of modern medical practice. Given the additional layers of legal scrutiny required of heavy opioid prescribers, paperwork is a substantial part of this practice specialty. Practicing as a staff physician can compound the amount of paperwork and administrative requirements. Therefore, work as a locum tenens in PM&R or pain management is an excellent way to immediately trim up to half the administrative burden from the job. Some locum tenens professionals call the experience “practicing pure medicine” because it hearkens back to a time in medicine without endless forms and billing sheets.
3. Help patients in under-served areas
Many physicians are aware of the critical need for experienced medical professionals in under-served areas. When you consider the relatively small pool of PM&R residency training spots in the context of a nationwide physician shortage1 and in the face of an opioid epidemic, there is a dire need for PM&R and pain management specialists in specific regions throughout the country. On the other hand, there are practical reasons for not relocating to an under-served area full-time. A locum tenens position in an under-served area allows altruistic-minded physicians to share their expertise with the neediest among us without necessarily committing to a 40-year career in one of these regions.
4. Pre-retirement employment without full-time physician hassles
Ending a career in medicine can be as demanding as starting that career. It can be difficult to wind down a long and successful practice, especially in pain management or PM&R with the unique needs of respective patient populations. The inherent drawback of a successful practice is the intense, unrelenting workload. Locum tenens is a superb way for physicians to reduce or end their full-time practice, while continuing to practice medicine on their own terms. They can set the hours and rates to a great extent, and work in their preferred venue. Indeed, a locum tenens position may be a way to try out a potential retirement destination along with retirement itself!
If you currently specialize in pain management or PM&R and are thinking about a locum tenens position, contact a NEXTLocums professional to discuss your next steps.
Worsowicz GM, Harlan K. Physician Extenders in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: A Roundtable Discussion. PM&R.5(2):148-151. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2012.10.014