Our healthcare system generally accepts locum tenens medicine as a good thing. However, there is one area in which we are not so sure: psychiatry. Locums possess three characteristics that are deemed harmful to psychiatry. Those characteristics are being a stranger, being an outsider, and only being around temporarily.
Psychiatry is seen as a form of medicine that requires stability and consistency. It requires familiarity between doctor and patient. Individuals in locum tenens psychiatry jobs do not fit that bill. The fact that they are outsiders and only around temporarily doesn’t tend to lend itself well to stability. The fact that they are strangers makes them incapable of that familiarity patients so desperately want.
So, is locum tenens psychiatry a bad idea? Absolutely not. Illustrating the point is a May 2019 article written by former locum tenens practitioner Dr. Lawrence Climo. His article in Psychiatric Times lays out just how locum psychiatry can be good for both doctor and patient alike.
A Fresh Perspective
Dr. Climo was the director of a struggling mental health center when he was unceremoniously let go. Though already at retirement age, he decided to go into locum tenens work as a means of getting away from an unfortunate situation and getting his head back together. Early on in his locum career he realized that he could bring a fresh perspective to the table.
He discovered that his perspective was often welcomed by his colleagues, especially when they were dealing with cases that seem to be sputtering. Being a stranger to the environment, he didn’t come into it with any preconceived notions. Every patient he saw was new to him. Therefore, he had a perspective that the rest of his colleagues did not have.
More Focus on Patients
Climo also discovered that, as a locum tenens psychiatrist, he could focus his attention solely on patients. He didn’t have to worry about performance reviews, filling empty hospital beds, or even giving the referring doctor a temporary break. None of that was his concern. His goal was to help make patients well.
This is an obvious benefit for the doctor who simply wants to practice medicine without the politics. But it is also good for patients inasmuch as the decisions being made about their care are driven by what’s best for them rather than what is best for the hospital or clinic.
Disarming the Patient
Dr. Climo’s excellent article discusses many more benefits of his time as a locum tenens provider. Of the many positive experiences listed, let’s talk about Climo learning that he could disarm defensive patients. He specifically cited one patient who continually denied his illness, refused to take his meds, and regularly used alcohol and illicit drugs.
Dr. Climo made it clear that he was a temporary fill-in and generally powerless to do anything to change the young man’s treatment. After emotionally disarming the man, he was able to suggest treatment options that the patient would normally reject. After the session, and with the patient’s approval, he then went and asked permission from the patient’s regular doctor to order the change. She agreed. Climo claims the change in treatment put the patient’s illness in remission.
At the end of the day, locum tenens psychiatry can do great things. It can benefit both doctor and patient alike. Doctors benefit by getting out of an old routine that makes them feel trapped. Patients benefit from a fresh perspective, a greater focus on their health, and a doctor who advocates for them instead of merely trying to pacify.