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Urgent Care: Locum tenens professionals fill the gap

As one of the American Medical Association's (AMA) newest specialties, urgent care is serving a growing demand within communities nationwide. With reports of 8,000 to upwards of 10,000 urgent care centers (UCCs) in the U.S. today, these settings offer services more quickly—and inexpensively—than America's often overcrowded emergency departments, with the same quality of treatment. As more locum tenens professionals are realizing, UCCs and hospital-based clinics are providing numerous opportunities for physicians and mid-level providers with experience in urgent care/ambulatory medicine, as well as those specialists in family practice, emergency medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.


Unfortunately, these much-needed facilities are not located within every community. "It has been my experience that rural areas do not have as much access to urgent care facilities," states Andrea Kloehn, president of Morrisville, North Carolina-based Medstaff National Medical Staffing. "These centers are usually found in neighborhoods where there is a population of 20,000 or more. The ones I have been exposed to are usually private practices owned by a physician or physician group. Also, mega-hospital systems in larger urban environments will often have urgent care centers located throughout a community. Smaller hospitals may operate one in an outlying town."

She continues, "We have been assisting urgent care facilities with their coverage needs since our inception in 1985. In the past, we primarily handled gaps when physicians took time off for vacations or continuing education, but now, we are finding that many facilities—especially those larger in size, such as urgent care groups with multiple clinic sites—are actually utilizing locum tenens in a planned fashion. They know their needs in terms of seasonality, and request additional coverage for those months.

"Urgent care professionals are also being utilized to hold the place for future permanent physicians. If an urgent care practice is experiencing growth or adding a clinic, administrators want coverage in the meantime until they can recruit a permanent physician. So, the locum tenens physician will come in temporarily and rotate with the other physicians on a regular schedule."

Just who are the locum tenens professionals choosing to practice urgent care? "We have physicians out of residency who enjoy gaining exposure to various practice environments," notes Ms. Kloehn. "Middle-age physicians seem to provide urgent care services on a moonlighting basis; and we also have many physicians older than age 55 with 20 to 30 years of experience in medicine, who typically prefer to take their spouses along and enjoy traveling to different areas.

"Often, these physicians earn between $140,000- $180,000 annually or $65/hour to $90/hour. There is not a significant difference in salary according to region. You can make a full-time salary and only provide services 3 days a week, or you can double that up by blocking your hours even more and having off for 5 or 10 days at a time. It is a great opportunity for a physician who wants to do research on the side, for example, or be more of a stay-at-home parent—all while collecting excellent compensation."

What is required of urgent care specialists interested in practicing locum tenens? "You should be board-certified in family practice or emergency medicine, or double-boarded in internal medicine and pediatrics," explains Ms. Kloehn. "A certain comfort level in treating both children and adults is necessary because these centers see the whole spectrum of the population. Furthermore, you need to have your BLS (Basic Life Support), ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support), and PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support) certifications. Though it may not be required, having your ATLS (Advanced Trauma Life Support) can also be beneficial. A person may walk through the door who should have gone to the emergency room, in which case, you would potentially need to handle a life-threatening situation."

This lifestyle affords the flexibility to give back in a variety of ways.

Airfare specials, car rental deals, and resort packages

As her family practice residency in osteopathic medicine drew to a close, Doede Donaugh, DO, found herself drawn to the locum tenens lifestyle.

A survey commissioned in January 2008 by VISTA Staffing Solutions based in Salt Lake City, Utah, found that locum tenens practice may extend the medical careers of physicians and help them avoid burn-out.

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