July 13, 2020
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Rural hospitals and locum tenens (contract) physicians are a perfect match. These hardworking facilities and doctors have qualities that bring out the best each other has to offer.
Hiring locum tenens clinicians is a necessary option for rural health systems. Locums tenens employment brings a full-time worker, with their benefits and insurance already taken care of, to an area for a set period of time. It reliably addresses clinical and administrative shortfalls.
The challenges faced by rural health facilities are well known. According to the National Rural Health Association, non-urban areas have fewer primary care doctors per person.
And for specialist clinicians, the disparity in available providers between urban and out-of-the way areas can be measured in orders of magnitude. Anyone struggling to find a rural specialist covered by their health insurance plan can attest to this.
Even the proportion of Medicaid patients is higher compared to urban areas, leading to additional financial pressures that flexible hiring contracts can resolve.
Hiring and Retention: Locum tenens work avoids much of the hiring difficulties tied to remote areas. Employers can draw upon a much larger pool of applicants who aren’t tied to a certain area, advantaging your workforce.
The hurdle of “attracting” clinicians to a specific region are gone, replaced by the flexibility of hiring a doctor who doesn’t have to struggle with committing to a region for life.
One hospital in Idaho takes a different approach, offering 10 weeks of paid sabbatical per year to salaried doctors, which attracts recruits from across the country. But for employers where this isn't an option, locums is a workable replacement.
Diversity of Opinions: For specialties or general hospitalists, locums hires generate diverse ideas. They have a range of experience, and their viewpoints from other schools and areas may help isolated practices modernize.
Administrative Benefits: Locums can be more expensive up front but more helpful overall. Many small hospitals have credentialing issues. These can be entirely handed off to an effective locums agency.
It’s also easier to hire locums or let them go. Instead of relying on local talent pool or dealing with union rules, small systems can test a temp-to-perm candidate without making a major commitment.
Scheduling: Rural hospitals tend to have fewer staff to draw from in case of emergencies. However, locums physicians are less apt to take time off. This allows for greater predictability and flexibility with your remaining workforce. It allows for catch up of surgeries and specialists after demand builds up.
There’s no shortage of doctors who want to try a rural workplace. Stat News suggests they largely report positive experiences. One Arkansas doctor said it gave her a “new lease on life”.
Clinicians who work in rural areas but are managed by an agency can be confident in the limited terms of the agreement, and their ability to fulfill workplace needs.
A rural-urban MD in the American Academy of Family Physicians is particularly happy about the straddling both sides of the divide. It will “push your medical skills as a physician”, he writes.
It’s easy to for facilities across the country to hire on DirectShifts. Our platform connects employers directly to clinicians. Simply create a profile and our exclusive AI matching service will put you and a traveling rural doctor together. You can also browse and filter on your own to find the right fit for you. Rural employers can sign up for DirectShifts today.