How Locum Tenens Bridges the Mental Health Care Gap

Listen to Amy Gentile’s interview

As the nationwide physician shortage increases, coupled with growing public awareness of available mental health services, medical facilities across the country struggle to maintain enough psychiatrists to provide timely care for all prospective patients. For many patients, this often means waiting months for appointments—or even going completely without mental health care—due to a complete lack of nearby psychiatrists who will accept new patients. As part of our mission to increase access to mental health care across the country, Consilium’s behavioral health division connects these understaffed mental health facilities with quality psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurse practitioners.

FACT: Nearly one in five American adults will experience mental illness in any given year, yet only 40% receive treatment for that illness. [1,2]

To commemorate Mental Health Month, we spoke with Amy Gentile—partner and regional vice president of Consilium’s behavioral health division—about her experience in social work and the importance of providing accessible mental health services.

Talk a little bit about how you came to be so passionate about your work in behavioral health.

My schooling was in social work and I did all my work in drug and alcohol treatment centers. I did a lot of work in mental health as I worked alongside a psychiatrist. A lot of the drug and alcohol patients that were in the treatment centers also had dual diagnoses where they also had mental health illnesses. I got to work with those patients firsthand and see how important it was that they had their medications, therapy, and access to psychiatrists. Not to mention that I have some personal experience with family members who have dealt with mental illness, primarily depression. I’ve seen how important it is that they also had access to psychiatrists and medication.

FACT: Nearly 8 million adults in the United States have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.[2]

When the opportunity arose for me to work in behavioral health in the locums industry, I thought it was a perfect fit for me because not only did I understand psychiatry—and the buzzwords and everything else—I was also just very passionate about making sure patients had mental health care. I know how important it is, professionally and personally.

How does Consilium fit into your mission to improve access to mental health services?

Just the idea that we have the opportunity to affect patient lives every single day. It’s the fact that with every phone call that I make, I have the opportunity to put a doctor into a facility. One more patient could be seen because I made a phone call, because someone gave us the opportunity to work on a job for them when they’re short-staffed for one reason or another. We’re affecting patient lives. We could be saving somebody’s life because we put a doctor in there—that’s huge to me.

FACT: 90% of those who die by suicide have symptoms of an underlying mental illness.[3]

The fact of the matter is that without locum tenens, a lot of patients wouldn’t be seen. They can go for months on waiting lists. I talk to facilities all the time that have one-, two-, three-month waiting lists for these patients. They’re backed up even to do evaluations and see what medications these people need to be on. What if they don’t get their medications—what’s next for them? Are they going to end up on the streets, are they going to end up in jail, are they going to end up worse? It can be a really sad situation. There’s a real need for doctors to be able to get in there and see these patients on a locums basis. Facilities can only go so long without coverage. They need to have coverage, period.

FACT: An estimated 50-75% of adolescents in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental illness.[4]

So even though you’re out of the social work field, you’re able to make an impact in an area that’s very important to you.

Absolutely. It’s near and dear to my heart for a lot of reasons that I mentioned. Even when counseling, just having a parent thank you for helping their child when they feel like you made a difference in their kid’s life. They feel like they’re connecting with their child again because their child is making an effort not to drink or take drugs, they’re getting help on the mental health side, they’re taking their medication—they’re doing what they’re supposed to do in all aspects. They’re going to their AA meetings and they’re seeing their psychiatrist and they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing; that’s a big deal.

FACT: 37% of students ages 14+ who have a mental health condition will drop out of school.[5]

On the professional side, when you have a client who is just so elated with their psychiatrist—especially when they went for quite a while without one and they needed one badly— and they’re so happy with the one you put in there for months and months and months… They’re just so grateful and appreciative, and it makes you feel good. It makes you feel good that our team did such a good job to get somebody in there because they’re so happy and you know that their patients are being seen. It makes you feel good that we worked as a team and got someone in there for them.

FACT: Consilium puts mental health professionals in positions to save lives.

Interested in providing mental health care with one of our clients or in finding psychiatrists or psychiatric nurse practitioners to see patients at your facility? Give us a call at 877-536-4696 or fill out our convenient online form.

 

Sources

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  3. American Psychological Association. Teen Suicide is Preventable.
  4. Underwood, L., & Washington, A. (2016). Mental Illness and Juvenile Offenders. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(2), 228.
  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health Facts: Children and Teens.

Ask a Hospitalist: What Should You Know Before Working Locum Tenens?

If you haven’t worked locum tenens yet, you probably have a lot of questions. What are some of the pros and cons? How might locums work impact your personal and professional life? Is locum tenens the best fit for your current goals?

Three of Consilium’s partnering hospitalists provide insight from their own experience with locum tenens:

  • Dr. Backer—a pharmacist-turned-hospitalist who has experience in emergency medicine, outpatient community health settings, and inpatient internal medicine
  • Dr. H.—a hospitalist, military veteran, and chemistry aficionado with vast experience in traditional internal medicine and varied hospitalist settings
  • Dr. Saad—a hospitalist with experience in urgent care clinics, intensive care units, and inpatient and outpatient internal medicine

How has working locum tenens with Consilium impacted your life?

First, locums has given me the options and flexibility that I needed. Secondly, I really feel like Consilium considers me to be a part of their team, and they provide me with consistency. I appreciate that when my recruiter or account manager give me a call, they make sure to reiterate that they value my work. They give me this feeling of, “Dr. Backer, we consider you to be one of us.” —Dr. Backer

While I was working traditional internal medicine prior to becoming a hospitalist, I ended up going between three different hospitals—it was just too much. Locum tenens has allowed me to achieve my desired compensation while working in hospital settings that I enjoy and am comfortable with. —Dr. H.

Definitely for the better. I came to locums after being underpaid and very much overworked, sometimes putting in 16 or 18 hours of work per day. Quality of life at that point in my life was almost zero. At some point, I thought that maybe this was just what life as an internal medicine physician was like—I even considered leaving medicine completely. Locum tenens has provided me with exposure to different hospital settings and allowed me to do exactly the kind of work I love most while also rewarding me for that hard work. –Dr. Saad

What are some of the best parts of working locum tenens?

I tell you what, the best part for me is getting to travel! After that, I would say that one of the most rewarding parts is the challenge of going to a new facility and navigating that terrain. It’s really a rush to go into a new territory, figure out what’s going on, and become a legitimate, trusted part of that team. –Dr. Backer

Personally, I have very specific financial goals. Locum tenens allows me freedom and flexibility while also providing me with an avenue to meet those goals. Locum work is also a really great way to keep your skills up and prevent gaps on your medical resume, which is important if you plan on applying for a permanent hospitalist position at some point. –Dr. H.

Before working locums, I worked at a hospital in addition to an urgent care clinic after my hospital shifts were complete. My pay during that time was less than what I made while working way less as a locum. Now, when I finish my shift, I’m done. I can go home and rest without having to worry about after-hours pages, and if I want to take a vacation with my family, I have the freedom to do that.—Dr. Saad

What should I know before working locums?

It takes a certain mentality to work locum tenens. In reality, your job exists at every single hospital in the United States, but to thrive as a locum you have to be bold enough to believe that you can fit in and provide excellent care anywhere.—Dr. Backer

Depending on where you live, it might be difficult to find a locum position close to you. If you want to travel the country a bit that’s probably great for you, but after I had a family, that made less distant positions a more desirable choice for me. It all depends on what you are looking for. –Dr. Saad

As I mentioned before, locum positions can help prevent gaps on your resume and help you maintain your procedural skills. Just be aware that when you do apply for a permanent position somewhere, the hospital hiring process will require that they follow up with every facility you worked with previously.

That isn’t a problem per se, but it does create a little extra leg-work for the hospital. So if you do plan on taking a permanent position, I would recommend that at the very beginning of your career, you either choose primarily long-term locum assignments or consider signing a hospital contract after a few years and work those shorter locum assignments as a supplement for a while.—Dr. H.

Advice you would give to prospective locum tenens providers:

Be very direct about what you are comfortable with as far as your desired location, facility setting, and compensation. Your account manager cannot find you the best fit if he or she does not know what you are looking for. Secondly, go into any position with the mindset that you are part of the team and you are going to do your absolute best work. If you go in with this mentality that you are ‘just a locum,’ or just covering that shift for a paycheck, you are setting yourself up for failure. –Dr. Backer

Ask your account manager for as many details on the facility and assignment as possible, and then get absolutely everything in writing. That protects you and helps you schedule your work appropriately. For instance, if I know that a facility really only needs me for 8 weeks and probably will not extend the contract, I want to be able to plan for my next assignment. –Dr. H.

If you anticipate needing verifiable income (such as for buying a house) within the next year or so, talk to your recruiter about more long-term locums contracts. Ask if your locum company can include in your contract—or even a separate statement if necessary— the number of shifts you will be working per month as well as the anticipated equivalent minimum annual salary. That way, you will have something concrete when you seek financing for a new home or a potential business venture. –Dr. Saad

Want more details on our panelists’ experiences with locum tenens? Read more about Dr. Backer in Locum Tenens Provider Spotlight: Hospital Medicine is Both a Science and An Art.

Interesting in working with Consilium? Search locum tenens opportunities for hospitalists