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Rather than retire, work locums: a neurosurgeon’s take on the benefits of locum tenens

As a neurosurgeon, Dr. William Meyer thrives on what he calls fixing his patients; relishing the ability to watch their progress from neurologic injury with a grave prognosis to functioning and mobile within a year.

“The most memorable experiences I’ve had in neurosurgery are those times when I’ve treated severely damaged patients – particularly those with spinal column injuries – and after surgically repairing their spines, they go from no neurologic functioning to being up and walking,” he says. He loves what he does, and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon. Locum tenens has made this a possibility.

Locum tenens is an opportunity to teach, and an opportunity to learn

Dr. Meyer has found that locum tenens has eliminated the tedium he feels while working a permanent position in the same location. It’s enabled him to travel to new facilities to learn new and unique approaches to each case. He’s found that every surgeon does things differently, and every location has uniquely different patient populations with their own particular needs.

“You get the chance to work with a variety of neurosurgeons who use varying techniques and communication skills, and it’s a good way to learn how to work with healthcare professionals with different personalities,” he shares. “These are perfect learning opportunities.”

Dr. Meyer is not only a neurosurgeon, he’s neuro-anatomist. With this unique medical background, he’s able to bring that perspective and his years of experience to the facilities in which he works. “I love showing the other healthcare providers with whom I work the benefits of having this particularly specialized knowledge.”

Not only is he able to learn while on each new assignment, he feels his presence and the 46 years of experience he brings with him allow him to teach the other healthcare professionals with whom he works. “I really prefer being in an environment where I’m working with residents, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants,” he says, “but I also love working with the ICU nurses who take care of the severely injured and brain damaged patients every day, and I’m able to teach them, which results in better care for the patients they treat.”

“I get the chance to be an important contributor to the improvement of a patient’s quality of life, and in some cases reversing very severe brain or spinal cord or nerve damage.”

There’s no such thing as retirement when you enjoy what you do

With more than four decades of practicing medicine under his belt, Dr. Meyer uses locum tenens as a bridge to retirement, although he insists the word retirement isn’t part of his vocabulary since, he says, “You can’t retire from having fun.” Locums does, however, allow him to work fewer than 20 days per month. When asked if he’ll start thinking about retirement in five or more years, he without hesitation says “No, I’ll think about not working 20-25 days a month; I’ll just work 10 days a month.”

To Dr. Meyer, the thought of full retirement is out of the question. He says, “I work locum tenens instead of fully retiring because it keeps me stimulated, it challenges me, and I can enjoy the results of good outcomes from severely injured patients and their follow-up care.” He continues, “With the physical challenges and intellectual challenges of neurosurgery, my continued devotion to my line of work won’t allow me to retire,” he says. “I love the neuro-anatomy, the physiology, teaching the nurses and other caregivers; teaching them how anatomy and physiology work together and how that ultimately looks like in the patient.”

Transparency, honesty, and trust is critical to being placed in the perfect assignment

He says the key to being placed in the ideal locums job is to be vocal about your needs and wants: “Be explicit about what your expectations are in an assignment. If you’re not comfortable performing certain procedures,” he says, “tell your recruiter so. If you don’t wish to work with pediatric patients, let them know. You also have to be comfortable – and aware of – the responsibilities expected of you, like the possibility of being ready to operate in an emergency in 30 minutes, or the amount of call expected of you.”

He prefers the ability to work as much or as little as he wants, and locum tenens allows this flexibility. He also finds that the assignments he takes are looking specifically for someone with experience and skillset.

Working locum tenens and work/life balance

Dr. Meyer can’t speak enough about how locum tenens has allowed him to travel as much – or as little – as he likes. “With the extra income I’ve made, my wife and I have for the first time begun to travel the globe. One year we traveled to Belgium and Holland, and were able to take a river cruise,” he shared. “The next year we took a cruise to Russia, and since I create my own schedule we were able to spend 14 days and explore Russia, from St. Petersburg to Moscow.”

He’s able to dictate his own schedule, and since he’s made the decision to only work 20-25 days per month on average, he and his wife traveled last year to far-reaching places, like Vietnam and Cambodia, places they’ve never had the opportunity – or time – to visit. “In 2018, we have already planned a trip to Paris. Locum tenens has allowed me the freedom to take off 15 days or more per month, if I want.”

For Dr. Meyer, burnout hasn’t been an issue since he loves what he does. “My wife said to me, ‘Even though you’ve been working for 46 years, you haven’t worked a day in your life.’”

Though he’s been practicing medicine for nearly half a century, Dr. Meyer isn’t yet considering retirement. His idea of retirement is halving the number of days a month he does locums. “Since the word ‘retirement’ isn’t part of my vocabulary, the ability to work much fewer hours, earn extra income – sometimes with better pay than with a permanent position – and maintain my skillset is what’s drawn me to locums work, and I don’t intend on stopping anytime soon,” he says. “You can’t retire from having fun. I enjoy what I do.”