How Locum Tenens Plays into Physician Vacation Time
There was an interesting survey put out by Merritt Hawkins early in 2018 detailing physicians and their vacations. Conducted on behalf of The Physicians Foundation, Merritt Hawkins delved into the amount of vacation time doctors take, what kinds of doctors are more likely to take time off, and similar topics.
After reading the survey’s results, it is clear that locum tenens medicine plays into physician vacation time in a number of important ways. Before getting to them however, note the number of weeks of annual vacation and the percentage of doctors who take them:
- 1 week or less – 6%
- 1-2 weeks – 27%
- 3-4 weeks – 49%
- 5-6 weeks – 11%
- 6+ weeks – 7%.
It is clear that the majority of physicians take between two and four weeks of vacation annually. But what about those who do not? Are there things they can do to increase their own vacation time? And what about those who take more than four weeks? What are they doing that others are not?
Bringing in a Locum
The most obvious way locum tenens medicine plays into physician vacation time is observed when private practice owners or hospital-owned groups bring in locums to cover for vacationing doctors. This should be obvious. By nature, locum tenens work is contract work designed to fill staffing holes on a temporary basis.
We would expect those doctors taking between 3 and 6 weeks of annual vacation to be covered by some other staffing solution – primarily locum tenens. Private practice owners use locums; group practices use locums; even hospitals use locums.
More importantly, that small percentage of doctors choosing not to take more than one week of vacation may believe they are unable to do so because they cannot afford to not see patients. Maybe all those doctors really need is access to reliable locums.
Working as a Locum
Next, consider the prospect of working as a locum tenens doctor. The locum works on a contract basis, anywhere from 3 to 6 months at a time. Finishing one contract means starting another. And yet, locums also have the opportunity to take some time off between contracts.
Locum medicine is almost an invitation to take time off. The locum doesn’t have an obligation to a single office. He or she does not have to show up for work once a contract is completed. Last but not least, the locum gets to decide when and where to take new contracts. All these things add up to create a perfect scenario for taking time off.
Combining Vacation and Locum Tenens
Most interesting of all is the fact that some doctors combine their vacation time with locum tenens work. Let’s say you have a doctor whose employer offers four weeks of annual paid vacation. That doctor may only take half the time and use it to get away. The other two weeks he spends earning some extra money through locum tenens work.
Spending that extra time as a locum allows the doctor to pay a bit more toward outstanding student loans. Or perhaps the locum assignment gets the doctor’s foot into the door of another facility that he would rather work at. The point is that there are lots of upsides to locum tenens medicine.
It is easy to read the Merritt Hawkins study as a bad thing for those doctors who don’t take enough time off. But how much is enough is up to the individual doctor. At any rate, locum tenens is playing an increasing role in determining how, when, and why doctors utilize their vacation time.