When most people think of locum tenens assignments, they tend to think of assignments at smaller private practices or with larger healthcare organizations and hospital networks. However, there are many opportunities at government-sponsored healthcare facilities, which tend to be just as appealing and uniquely fulfilling. For example, there are openings at the federal level, in corrections and at agencies such as Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities, which many locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners tend to prefer. Here’s why.
Lower case load and patient volumes
When you work locum tenens assignments with Indian Health Services (IHS), corrections assignments, or other federal government opportunities, you typically have a lower case load and lower patient volumes. For those physicians and advanced practitioners seeking locum tenens work so they can scale back their hours and help combat burnout, working a government locum tenens assignment could be a good solution. It’s also a good way for physicians and advanced practitioners who typically work full time and are permanently employed to scale back their hours as they begin to transition into retirement.
Flexible hours and possibilities
One of the biggest benefits of working locum tenens government assignments is the flexibility they provide. For example, most government assignments have more traditional, stable working hours. For many available positions at both the federal and agency level, you can expect to work 30 to 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, making these assignments ideal for those who want the flexibility of having weeknights, weekends and holidays free. And those who require additional flexibility with their hours can often negotiate it.
Another reason government-contracted locum tenens opportunities tend to be more flexible is they often are more conducive to longer-term assignments. This means if you really enjoy working at a particular facility, there’s a chance you can extend your contract and stay there for a while, with some facilities offering the opportunity for providers to transition from a locum tenens position to a permanent position.
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Faster credentialing timeframe
Corrections assignments and some IHS assignments also tend to be more flexible in the sense they have a faster credentialing timeframe. This means the time it takes for a recruiter to find you the perfect assignment and actually get you there is shorter, allowing you to get to work and serve patients more quickly. This is in part because most of these assignments will take any state license, which means you have the option of working wherever in the country you most desire without having to worry about the typical red tape delaying the time it takes to get you there. There are always corrections opportunities open all over the country, so your recruiter can typically find you an assignment wherever you want to work.
Protection under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is another benefit of working federal government-contracted locum tenens assignments. Because of the FTCA, “the federal government acts as a self-insurer, and recognizes liability for the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of its employees acting within the scope of their official duties. The United States is liable to the same extent an individual would be in like circumstances. The statute substitutes the United States as the defendant in such a suit and the United States—not the individual employee—bears any resulting liability.”
While clinicians always aim to provide the highest quality care to the patients they serve, most appreciate the additional layer of protection FTCA provides.
Ability to serve the underserved
The ability to serve the underserved is both the most impactful and most important reason to work government-contracted locum tenens assignments. Most locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners who have worked government-contracted locum tenens assignments describe it as being a great experience, in large part because it gives them the unique opportunity to serve some of our most vulnerable populations and those who are most in need of care.
One of the best examples of this is the opportunity to provide care for Native Americans through IHS. Sadly, Native American populations and indigenous peoples have experienced a long history of injustice, and despite legislation aimed at alleviating this, there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done. IHS is playing a role in the remediation with its vision of working toward “healthy communities and quality health care systems through strong partnerships and culturally responsive practices.” For this reason, many locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners find working these assignments to be even more rewarding.
Government-contracted locum tenens assignments are both recession-proof and pandemic-proof; there will always be locum tenens openings at government-sponsored healthcare facilities, even when other healthcare organizations are experiencing furloughs and layoffs due to the economy or a change in demand for services, like what we experienced due to COVID-19. Just because they’ll always be around, though, doesn’t mean you should put off exploring the opportunities that are out there.
Due to the pandemic, the time to commit to a government-contracted assignment is ideal. Most offer to vaccinate their locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners, which is appealing to locum tenens providers who have experienced difficulty accessing the COVID-19 vaccine while on other assignments. And there are more opportunities than there were previously, due to efforts such as the creation of the National Emergency Tele-critical Care Network (NETCCN), a network with the purpose of ensuring there are enough physicians and advanced practitioners to provide care via telehealth during emergent situations.