Many studies suggest medical professionals experience career burnout at a significantly higher rate than the general US population. While this number varies, it’s been estimated that more than 50% of clinicians experience symptoms of burnout, with younger generations reporting rates closer to 70%. Even worse, these numbers have risen in recent years.
While occasional feelings of burnout may seem normal or insignificant, they matter immensely. Clinicians feeling burnout may be more likely to make mistakes, experience declining physical and mental health, or want to leave medicine entirely.
It’s clear that burnout is a pressing issue, however, what’s not as clear is what exactly causes burnout.
Environmental circumstances are almost certainly contributing factors, but narrowing down those factors has presented a challenge to researchers since medical professionals are less likely to be open about both burnout they face and the ways their organizations have contributed to it.
Anecdotally, some clinicians have cited factors such as:
Dr. Walker Ray, president of the Physicians Foundation, points out that “Many physicians are dissatisfied with the current state of medical practice and are starting to opt out of traditional patient care roles. By retiring, taking non-clinical roles or cutting back in various other ways, physicians are essentially voting with their feet… to the detriment of patient access.” Meanwhile, some choose to stay in the field, hoping that infrastructures improve and support systems get better.
For many clinicians, none of these are great options. Leaving the field or retiring early is tough after investing years into education and often involves giving up a lifelong passion for medicine. But staying in a toxic or high-stress position has foreboding consequences for mental, physical and relational health. As a result, a growing number of clinicians are turning to locum tenens work. By enabling more time with patients, greater work-life balance, more control over scheduling, and more freedom from exhausting organizational bureaucracy, locum tenens is helping clinicians stay in their field while eliminating many primary contributors to burnout. Locums work can be an attractive solution to those just starting out, as well.
Dr. Richard L., a D&Y locums contractor, said that he’s transitioned away from encouraging residents to stay in the academic environment. “Right now, when I’m advising some of the residents that get referred to me to talk about future careers…now that I’ve worked both sides, I actually highly recommend doing locums.”
“The flexibility of the schedule…even though I travel—it allows me to spend more time with my wife and my kids and being at home.”
– Dr. David L.
“I have control over my schedule and I’m able to pack all my shifts consecutively so that I have more time off to be with my kids and to travel.” – Dr. Richard L.
“I like to exercise, try to go to the gym five, six days a week. I enjoy spending time with my wife, kids. We do a lot of traveling…I’m from Louisiana, so being stereotypical here, but from Louisiana, I like to cook, so I definitely enjoy being in the kitchen.” – Dr. David L.
“My passions are music—I study jazz piano—writing, creative writing, and exercise…Actually, right now, I’m just starting to train [for Ironman competition] again. Working locums definitely gives me more time to do those passions, for which I’m grateful.” – Dr. Richard L.
There are very real career benefits to working as a locum tenens clinician. Locum tenens assignments represent an opportunity to work in desirable locations right out of the gate, while making a higher salary that can quickly pay off debt from education costs. Those who have been in their career longer have found that locums work contributes to a well-rounded resume and a wide network.
One benefit of locums that Dr. David L. cited was that “[Locums work] keeps you sharp…it helps reduce complacency by working in multiple places and just staying on top of your game.” Another benefit is the ability to find an environment that fits your individual preferences. Dr. Richard L. spoke with D&Y about the contrast between his current placement and a previous one: “I’ve worked in places where people are just bitter. And here, patients are treated the way I would like if my parent, my mother, or family member came in…the fact is, patients are really provided great care, and it’s super efficient.”
With clinician burnout at the forefront of pressing issues within the medical field going into 2022, utilizing locum tenens clinicians is imperative. The benefits detailed from real life experience in this article show just some of the ways this is a real solution from both the healthcare facility and clinician side. If you enjoyed reading this, be sure to read the following articles: