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Rent-a-doc: pathology goes on the road.

Leave the Navy and see the world.

I enjoy pathology and like to travel. Military practice allowed me to do both at the same time, and so did civilian life later on. When I retired as a Navy pathologist last year, I put my uniform in mothballs but kept my suitcase ready. I became a locum tenens or temporary physician.

Small hospitals and practices often requie a skilled professional to serve their patients in a regular physician's absence. Agencies like Comprehensive Health Systems of Salt Lake City employ physicians as independent contractors able to provide temporary coverage on short notice.

The call may go out for a locum tenens when doctors plan to vacation or seek continuing education credits. Unexpected resignations, retirements, or illnesses create a similar demand. And DRGs represent a new opportunity for locum tenentes: Clinics and hospitals may want to expand, yet hesitate because of uncertainty over the impact of prospective payment. Bringing in a physician temporarily could be the answer for these facilites, until they know they can afford another full-time staff member.

Health care providers who have a sudden or short-term medical vacancy contract with the agency to furnish a licensed physician. In effect, they rent a physician. It's the old "Kelly girl" office temporary concept, transplanted to the medical profession.

CompHealth began as a non-profit foundation addressing the needs of remote communities that were short on physicians. In recent years, it has expanded its mission to include coverage of all sorts of temporary medical needs. Now more than 250 itinerant physicians, including 40 pathologists, work for the agency. Among other companies providing similar services are Kron Medical, Chapel Hill, N.C., and P-R-N, New Braunfels, Tex.

My first assignment was in Williston, N.D., covering a solo practice for three weeks in February 1983 so the regular pathologist could bask in the Florida sun. In the process, I discovered that patients and staff in isolated communities were far friendlier than in large medical centers.

The position demanded a high degree of self-reliance. As the only pathologist within a radius of 125 miles, I couldn't show that difficult biopsy to anyone but myself.

Many physicians seek out and are happy with permanent practices. They enjoy the intrigues of hospital staff politics and relish the trappings of an affluent lifestyle. Physicians making house, car, boat, and college tuition payments can't take off on a moment's notice to a new assignment. Continually pulling up roots or leaving a spouse and kids behind is out of the question for them.

For other doctors, however, a life of travel and varied medical experience holds much appeal. Most of the time, locum tenentes don't know where their next assignment will take them, but that's part of the fun.

Some physicians make locum tenens work their post-retirement career. One general practitioner fell in love with the western United States during stints in which national parks served as his backyard. He believes many older physicians mistakenly retire when all they really want is more vacation and travel time. The locum tenens option would be perfect for them. In fact, some retired physicians and their spouses travel in their own recreational vehicles to new assignments.

Another candidate for locum tenens is the young pathologist wishing to sample various practice settings before deciding on a particular one.

One young internist I spoke with saw his locum tenens tour as a chance to sow wild oats before he settled down. He recently had finished his residency and didn't have any family or financial obligations.

A recent medical school graduate described some gratifying experiences she had as a locum tenens while learning first-hand about the maldistribution of physicians in the U.S. She was impressed by the respect she received and the friendliness of the patients in remote communities.

The specifics of a locum tenens' contract are fairly attractive. Pay varies depending on the spceialty; for example, I received $1,300 for every week I worked. Others, such as general practitioners, receive less.

My contract with CompHealth guaranteed at least 13 weeks of work per year or the company would pay the difference. For other specialties, such as family practice, where CompHealth knows there will be enough demand, the contract guarantee may run 26 weeks.

Thus, I had a minimum gross annual salary of $16,900 per year, and I could earn about $65,000 in a single year. I could not be too choosy, though, about when and where I worked. If I refused more than two assignments per year, CompHealth would have had the option to terminate my contract.

Consider also that I didn't have to absorb many expenses. Once I was assigned to a job, CompHealth and the client physician or institution took care of most costs. The client provided housing and transportatin, for example. I drove my own car to a job in the East and had to stay in a motel there, but eh mileage was reimbursed and I never saw the motel bill. Sometimes a physician arranging for a temporary replacement from CompHealth makes his own home available to the locum tenens.

CompHealth maintains a blanket malpractice insurance policy for all of its physicians. It covered anything I did as a locum tenens for which I migh be sued later.

The agency ran a complete initial check on me. It contacted all my references to make sure I was qualified, and through this process obtained copies of most of my professional documents. There were necessary for hospital privileges and state licenses.

There's no problem landing temporary hospital privileges. But state licenses are another story because clients often do not give CompHealth much lead time, and the bureaucracy never works as fast as you would like. In North Dakota, I never even received a permanent license. The state issued a locum tenens permit.

Colleagues treated me well in my different assignments, both professionally and socially. I went from North Dakota to Dover, Del., where I served as an associate pathologist at 147-bed Kent General Hospital for almost six months. I wasn't the boss, but no one made me feel like a substitute, either. During my stay in Delaware, the pleasures of the seashore, boating, fishing, and hunting were available to me. I hated to see th job end, but the jospital eventually found a permanent associate pathologist.

My next assignment as a locum tenens was at 49-bed Woodlawn Hospital in Rochester, Inc., which was once served by pathologists in circuit-rider fashion. They would stop by once a week to provide whatever services were needed. The hospital then contracted for full-time pathology coverage. In time, the corporation providing the coverage needed a new pathologist, and I assumed the position as a locum tenens.

Eventually, when the arrangement for coverage ended, the hospital decided to take over operation of the laboratory. Thoroughly enjoying the work, the institution, and the town, I accepted when they offered me the position of pathologist.

CompHealth contracts require payment of a recruiting fee when a practice or an institution lures away a locum tenens. The advantage of such an arrangement, of course, is the opportunity both parties have to check each other out prior to making a long-term commitment. That's exactly what happened in my case.

For pathologists just entering practice, considering retirement, or somewhere in between but desiring a change of pace, working as a rent-a-doc may just be the way to go.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:CompHealth offers temporary physician, medical personnel service
Author:Rubel, Lawrence R.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Mar 1, 1985
Previous Article:The clinical laboratory in a competitive environment.
Next Article:Developing a data retrieval and statistics program.

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