Locum Tenens Provider Spotlight: Hospital Medicine is ‘Both a Science and an Art’

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Dr. Farnel Backer, one of Consilium’s partnering hospitalists, has taken on diverse medical roles and gained experience in numerous practice settings throughout his career. He credits his experience in multiple medical settings—including five years in pharmacy—with much of his success as a physician.

Why did you become a physician?

I was actually a pharmacist first, but I decided that my real calling was to be at the forefront of healthcare decision-making for patients.

What made you decide to become a hospitalist?

I have worked in a number of different settings, and when I eventually made my way to hospitalist work it just felt like the right fit.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I like the pace, the amount of input I have in making patient health decisions, and the results I get to see after working with patients for a short amount of time as compared to outpatient settings. I get to watch patients improve and then become healthy enough to go home. That’s what really keeps me going.

What do you feel is the most challenging part of hospitalist work?

Much more so than before—and I think many of my colleagues would agree—there is consistent pressure from case managers and social workers to discharge patients. We constantly have to make decisions that impact patients’ lives, both financially and in terms of health, in addition to affecting the hospital’s readmission rates.

It’s a balancing act: we of course can’t discharge patients until they are stable, but we also have to balance whether they can work with an outpatient physician and expect similar results or whether they really should stay another couple days so we can get to the bottom of the cause and get them well more quickly.

What is one of your favorite parts of working locums?

I tell you what, the best part for me is getting to travel. Aside from that, I honestly enjoy the challenge of going to a facility that is chaotic in the beginning. Within a couple of days, I get to figure out what is going on, how to fix it, and really begin to feel like part of the team. I like the fact that I can step into this new place, a completely new territory, and get the lay of the land and function despite the challenge. That’s the high point for me.

What are some of the challenges of working locum tenens?

It can be challenging to start working in a new facility where people know that their current procedures are not working, yet they are reluctant to implement simple changes that would really improve their processes and—as a result—patient care.

What is something you have learned while working locum tenens? Did anything surprise you?

Honestly, what surprised me most was the sheer need for locum tenens providers. After that, I’d say I’m surprised about how great my experience has been—and that I’m still working locums! It has been unbelievably good.

I will say this though: locum tenens is not for everyone. It takes a certain mentality. If you aren’t bold enough to believe that you can fit in anywhere, locums isn’t for you. For me, I truly believe that as long as I have patients and a stethoscope, I can navigate everything else. The politics, technology, bureaucracy…that’s all just noise. I am there to treat patients.

What is one piece of advice you would give to prospective locum tenens providers?

I actually have two pieces of advice, one for working with your locums company and one for when you go to work.

First, make sure that you are frank about what you are comfortable with in terms of facility setting, location, and compensation. If your account manager knows what you need, he or she is much more able to find you an opportunity that you are happy with.

Secondly, whichever facility you go to, look at yourself as part of the team, like you belong. If you go into a job with the mentality that you are “just a locum,” or that you’re just going to do a job and get a paycheck, you are setting yourself up for failure and I promise that you will end up being unhappy. I tell people to go in thinking, “I own this place, I belong here, and I am going to go in and give it 110%.”

Remember, you work in medicine: your job is at every single hospital in the United States. Whenever you step foot in any hospital in this country, your footprint is going to stay. If you can remember that, you will protect your reputation, the hospital will benefit, and your patients will receive high-quality care—that’s the bottom line.

Is there anything in particular that facilities could change or improve to make locums’ experiences better?

My advice to hospitals is similar to what I tell new locums providers: treat locum tenens hospitalists like a true part of the team. For permanent physicians, it is in your best interest to treat us as if we are “one of you,” so that we can produce like you, meet expectations like you, and provide patients with excellent care just like you are expected to. The moment you start to believe someone is “just a locum,” you hinder their capability to give you 100% of the dedication that they can and should be providing.

At the end of the day, locum tenens providers often have experience in numerous different facilities, diverse practice settings, and even in different medical roles. We’ve been around the block a bit more than average, and we often have additional perspective on what processes are effective and what could be improved based upon what we’ve experienced. Given that, expectations should actually be even higher for locum physicians than they are for the permanent providers. I believe that in many situations, our knowledge is not being tapped nearly enough.

Why did you choose to work with Consilium? How did you first hear about us?

Kyle, my recruiter, called me about a position. He was very positive and just sounded like a go-getter, and he was very straightforward with me about the job details. Soon after that, I was on the phone with Jason, my account manager, and he filled in the rest. They gave me the information I needed to know without sugarcoating it or leaving anything out. I have had other locums companies call me and ask me to work but then refuse to give me important details (such as the facility location) unless I agreed to work.

For me, if you don’t trust me to act like a professional, then we don’t need to work together. I feel like Consilium showed trust in me as a person and a physician, and that made it a lot easier to trust that they would be the right company for me.

How has working locum tenens with Consilium impacted your life?

Jason and Kyle have really made me feel like Consilium considers me as part of the team. I really appreciate that. Maybe a month ago, I got a call about a job and they made sure to tell me that they appreciate my work and asked if I would be at Hospital Medicine 2017 in case they could meet me in person. They make me feel like my work is valued, as if they’re saying, “You’re one of us.”

Another thing Consilium does really well is provide consistency with the people I talk to. If I talk to someone at Consilium I don’t know yet, it’s when Kyle or Jason has already made an introduction so I’m not on the phone thinking, “Who is this person?” Forewarning is very important for me—it makes everything easier when I already have this established relationship.

What is one of your most memorable experiences as a physician?

Wow, there are so many… But you know what, I had a great experience just the other day. I was working in the ICU when I heard a woman say, “Hey you, come here!” I was sitting there thinking, “Who is this lady calling me,” but I walked into the room anyway. She asked if I remembered her, but I could not recall her face.

She said, “You took care of me three years ago. I remember you because of how encouraging you were when you took care of me.” Now, I have no idea what I said to her, but I do know that she must have been feeling vulnerable and helpless at the time and when I came in and spoke with her, that’s what she remembered about the experience. She gave me a big hug and thanked me, and it just made my whole night.

Medicine is both a science and an art. I believe that providing treatments to patients—though it’s what I went to school for—is actually the easiest part of being a physician. I diagnose diseases for a living, so that’s not that impressive to me personally. But when I can truly relate to a patient on a human level, that’s what really brings me joy. When I get to that level where patients trust and understand me and believe that I genuinely sympathize with them and their situation, I would say that I have reached my mountaintop. And that is priceless.

Interested in putting your medical expertise to work with Consilium, or in finding locum tenens professionals to provide coverage at your facility? Give us a call at 877-536-4696.

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