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The Importance of Locum Tenens in the New COVID Landscape

By Joseph Duffy, contributor

When a pandemic hits during a healthcare worker shortage, it can become a disastrous scenario. 

According to a recent study from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there is an expected shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. 

“The physician workforce shortages that our nation is facing are being felt even more acutely as we mobilize on the front lines to combat the COVID-19 national emergency,” said AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD. “The increasing physician shortage over the last two decades, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, has demonstrated that we need to increase the number of physicians to ensure we can care for patients in the near term and in the future.”

As the pandemic continues to turn the healthcare industry upside down, locum tenens are supporting healthcare systems by traveling where needed in the new COVID landscape.

When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, locum tenens rushed to join the frontlines in hotbed locations such as New York, Washington and California. Locum tenens have also traveled during the pandemic to fill in for physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse anesthetists, and other healthcare workers who have been stricken by the virus and needed to be quarantined before returning to work.

As facilities found themselves scurrying to adapt to the crisis, locum tenens were gearing up to make a difference. Some would even go outside their area of expertise just to help.

Locums travel in the new COVID landscape

Since the global pandemic declaration in March 2020, locum tenens have been hard at work across the country, providing support to overwhelmed hospitals and other care centers. They have become vital to the way healthcare and patient care are handled during the pandemic.

The ability for a locum tenens to pack a bag, adapt to a new healthcare setting, and begin working a shift in a short amount of time has been critical to battling COVID. 

And states offering expedited healthcare license requirements, as well as healthcare systems making policy changes, are making it easier to start work quickly.

Locum assignments have opened up in urban, suburban and rural areas. Working in a rural community, locum tenens can offer support to a population that is generally older and more vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19.

Locums are also discovering traveling in the new COVID landscape may not require going great distances. Because of the breadth of the crisis, locum tenens can often find assignments near their own homes, either working in a nearby community or just across town, putting in some extra shifts.

And for some locums who are not ready to travel or are in a high-risk category for COVID complications, they can still make a difference by working in telehealth. By providing remote medical appointments, they can help manage patient volumes and fill a vacancy on short notice. 

Pooja Patel, MD, a locum tenens internal medicine hospitalist with Locum Leaders, said, “I feel like a soldier. We’ve been called in this war to the battlefield, and nothing is more gratifying for me than being able to contribute, be significant, and make a difference. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that’s been given to us, and I feel proud to be a physician now more than ever before.”

Patel reminded locum tenens and everyone on the frontlines to remain vigilant with PPE and stay safe when traveling in the new COVID landscape. 

Related:
The Post-Pandemic Medical Practice: 4 Key Changes to Expect


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