Medical providers are the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the media focus has largely been on those helping patients overcome the physical symptoms of the disease, psychiatrists are also rolling up their sleeves, helping patients find their way to mental wellness.
With an estimated 46 million adults in the U.S. battling mental illness, psychiatrists have long been in demand, and experts predict a shortage of 15,600 professionals by 2025. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, casting a spotlight the necessity of hiring locum tenens providers to fulfill patient need.
COVID Creates Complex Issues
The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new set of complications that prove to have a dramatic impact on mental health. Issues related to loss of income, isolation, loneliness, depression, job stress, anxiety, and fear of getting sick can be devastating. Approximately 53% of adults who participated in a Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll in July said that stress and worry about the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health. As a result, many of these individuals reported issues ranging from difficulty sleeping to alcohol and drug abuse.
With more people in need of treatment from mental illness, the more desperate the shortage of psychiatrists has become. Issues like long appointment wait times and shorter sessions are a detriment to patients, and increased workload leads to provider burnout. As a result, not only are psychiatrists necessary to augment existing staff, but now even more are required to give full-time providers a much-needed break.
Crossing Rural Roads
While psychiatrists are in short supply around the nation, the gap is even greater in rural and underserved areas. For these patients, barriers to healthcare include the inability to find transportation, long distances from homes to providers, and lack of medical insurance. Locum tenens positions empower providers to go to far-reaching communities, bringing relief to those who would otherwise not receive treatment.
The Cure for Provider Shortages Around the nation, 96% of counties have a shortage of psychiatrists. Locums providers can be the solution to filling the shortfall. Across clinical settings and states, locums providers are comfortable stepping in for a specified timeframe, and then moving on when the assignment concludes.
Amy Gentile, Divisional Vice President and Partner, Behavioral Health, for Consilium Staffing, said locum tenens psychiatrists can be a smart, sustainable solution for adequately staffing facilities that face a provider shortage.
“Before starting in the locum tenens industry, I worked as a Master Level Therapist with clients who suffered from both substance abuse and mental health diagnoses. I saw firsthand the importance the role of psychiatry plays in the quality of life for so many individuals,” Gentile explained. “Having a career in locum tenens has offered a unique vehicle to continue my passion for impacting patients’ lives by providing access to psychiatric care.”
As the pandemic carries on, the need for psychiatric care continues to climb. Locums providers can be the voice on the line bringing expertise to hospitals and facilities – and offering treatment and comfort to the patients they serve.
Dr. Eisele currently works with Consilium in inpatient and outpatient community mental health settings.
Karla Eisele couldn’t tell you exactly when or why she first decided to become a physician—it was just always part of her life plan, even as a young child. There were no doctors in her family, but she says the medical field drew her in “like a magnet.”
Despite the early affinity for a career in medicine, Eisele—a woman of many talents—did venture off on the occupational “detour” or two, so to speak.
“I did get sidetracked for a while,” Eisele said. “I realized in college that I also really loved math, and I ended up teaching high school math in Colorado! That was fun, but medicine was always in the back of my mind—after teaching for a few years, I finally decided to take this whole ‘medical school thing’ seriously.”
“I work very hard, so I love that with Consilium, I have the flexibility to schedule a vacation whenever is best for me. I just let Penny—my account manager—know when I will be out, and she takes care of everything.”
Her decision to pursue psychiatry in particular had much to do with the foresight of her medical school: already aware of the psychiatrist shortage, the University of Colorado had introduced a psychiatry rotation for second-year students to provide early exposure and encourage higher entry to the field.
“Listen, your second year of medical school, you are so bogged down with lectures that a rotation in ANYTHING would be a welcome change,” Eisele laughed. “But that was honestly just ‘it’ for me. As soon as I got involved in psychiatry it was all over—I knew this was absolutely what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.”
After medical school, Dr. Eisele completed residency in Wichita, Kansas, and soon after made her way to Idaho, where she worked in an inpatient state mental health facility.
“This was probably a bit naïve, but I had really planned to stay at that hospital forever,” Eisele said. “I really loved it there, but eventually I just needed a change of pace and scenery.”
After seven years as an inpatient psychiatrist in Idaho, Dr. Eisele was eager to move to a new work setting but was leery of committing to a new job before knowing it was the right fit. To ensure she would find her ideal new career home, she decided to give locum tenens a try.
“It turns out that I was really fond of those shorter assignments and all the variety they offered, so I ended up sticking with locums,” Eisele said. “I am so glad I was able to start working with Consilium. I’ve been with Penny—my account manager—from the very beginning and she is just so, so nice! She’s sweet yet also tells it to me straight: I know that if I ever have a problem, all I have to do is call Penny and she will handle it right away.”
Q&A with Dr. Karla Eisele, Locum Tenens Psychiatrist
You have a real passion for inpatient settings. What is it that draws you to inpatient psychiatry in particular?
Believe it or not, my favorite thing is that when I go to work every day, I don’t know exactly what situations I will encounter that day—I get to think on my feet a bit. It’s very exciting, very challenging, and at the same time very rewarding, too. It can be incredibly difficult when you have patients who have gone without treatment and are truly afraid that we are going to hurt them rather than help them. The reward piece comes in when they begin to understand that we really do care about them, there really IS something wrong, and we really can help them. It’s when that lightbulb clicks on that you feel like you’ve made a difference.
Also, in inpatient settings you frequently interact with professionals in diverse specialties, which puts me in a better position to advocate for the needs of my patients. Too often, psychiatric patients do not receive quality medical care, so for that reason it is important to remain current in general medicine in addition to psychiatry. As a physician, this is where I get to step in and monitor their medical condition and then refer out to doctors who I trust to treat my patients well and genuinely listen to them.
There is this stigma in the general population surrounding mental illness and the use of psychiatric medications, but it’s truly no different from somebody needing medicine to help control high blood pressure. At the end of the day, my patients are just people—people who need help, who need to know that there are people who care about them and their struggles.
So you really have a platform to advocate for your patients.
Absolutely. And working in community health, I have additional opportunities to do just that. With the economic crash several years back, many facilities that served vulnerable populations closed, and they have not reopened at the same rate they closed. Because I work closely with my patients and their whole care team, I am able to identify ways that processes can be improved and pass that along to facility administrators. In turn, they can use that information to press for changes on a systemic level so we can better serve our patients.
You currently work with Consilium in inpatient and outpatient community health settings—what does a typical “day in your life” look like?
I go to the inpatient unit first thing in the morning and do rounds on anywhere from 4 to 8 patients. Around noon, I go to my outpatient clinic and see people from the community to ensure they are on the best medicines—and the appropriate dosages—for their specific conditions. I used to think that outpatient work would not be exciting enough for me, but I have really enjoyed it!
The really cool thing about the outpatient clinic where Consilium placed me is that the building also houses an adult group home. These are people who are dealing with serious mental illnesses and would not be able to live in the community by themselves. But in the facility, they each have their own unit—which is basically like a little apartment—complete with a kitchen. Basically, they are able to be somewhat independent while also having access to staff members as needed. When it’s time for their visit with me, they just come downstairs. It’s so neat, and it’s really the best possible scenario for my patients.
How has working locum tenens with Consilium impacted your life?
I genuinely feel like my current work arrangement is the best fit for me thus far in my career. The flexibility is one of the best parts for me. I work very hard, so I love that Consilium gives me the flexibility to schedule a vacation whenever is best for me. I really, really appreciate that. I am also paid more than if I were working as a permanent employee: it would honestly be difficult to go back to a more traditional set-up because of the pay cut that would require.
Most importantly though, I stay with Consilium because of the working relationship I have built with my account manager over time. At the end of the day, it’s simple: I plan to stay with Penny!