Locum providers: Who we are

illustration showing the different ways providers work locum tenens

Trevor Cabrera, MD, shares why he became a locum tenens physician and the different ways he has seen providers make locums work for their medical careers.

Locum out of residency

When I made the decision to exclusively work locum tenens right out of residency, I also decided I would continue working “like a resident” and keep up a neurotic work schedule of only taking off four days a month. I figured that it was the best way to pay off loans, see the country, and experience new things. I could maximize my time on the road going from job to job. Why not? I’m young, I have little responsibilities, and I still have the energy to do it.

As such, many of my friends and former colleagues have followed my busy lifestyle on social media and have developed a singular view of what it’s like to work locum tenens. However, as the job market is continually changing and healthcare is undergoing increasingly more frustrating points of stress, more and more providers are considering working locum tenens.

The most important thing that providers need to know is that not everyone needs to work as much as I do, but ANYONE can work locum tenens — and at a pace and schedule they can handle. Here are a few of the different ways I have seen physicians use locum tenens to take the next step in their career.

The specialist who would have been

One of my early acquaintances in my locum career was someone only a few years out of training. He had started a fellowship and a year or two in realized it wasn’t for him. He left it and started working as a generalist in the locums world.

We alternated rotating weeks in a small critical access hospital with a third physician who had previously come to that facility himself as a locum provider, then switched to full time after the fact. He would work two weeks a month and commute back and forth between Texas and Colorado to be with his family. Eventually he decided to take a full-time job in a more desirable location so he could maximize his time with family and travel less, but he still left the door open to pick up shifts here and there if needed.

The specialist who was

I met another provider who — after two decades of working as a subspecialist in the world of hematology/oncology — had burnt out from the busy and depressing field of cancer. She decided to take an alternate path. As such, she joined the world of locum tenens and returned to general medicine.

It was in some ways a step up financially and schedule wise, and in other ways a step down in intensity and grief. It allowed her to have a change in professional and emotional scenery, and I’m sure she could still work in her specialist role if she truly desired.

The specialist who is

During my training, I became friends with a brilliant pediatric cardiologist. After completing his training, he found himself at a crossroads. He was vacillating between sub-subspecializing/doing a sub-fellowship and taking a contracted permanent job.

Wanting a little bit of a break but also some reliable income, he followed my lead and talked to me about the world of locum tenens. Now, while he researches his options and plans for the future, he isn’t short of work as a fellowship-trained specialist, and the door is still open to return for more training. Locum work is available to all specialties and — obviously from this case — also many subspecialists.

The full-timer seeking variety

Although more often referred to as “moonlighting” (which I find to be interchangeable with locum tenens with some caveats to reimbursements, longevity of assignments, and contract details), some full-timers find themselves wanting to pick up extra work from time to time for a variety of reasons.

One of my good friends is a double-boarded physician in internal medicine and pediatrics. His “day job” is mainly as an adult hospitalist, but from to time he finds himself missing the world of pediatrics and picks up shifts at urgent cares or clinics as needed. Even for providers within their specialty, locum tenens offers the ability to expand the actual job roles — I mainly work as an inpatient hospitalist but occasionally will dabble in the outpatient clinic world to maintain my skills because I love the job content.

Endless flexibility

The beautiful thing about locum tenens is the breadth of variety and flexibility inherent to its needs. The work can be molded to fit the lifestyle and needs of any provider. Whether it’s working one week a month, an extra shift here or there, or — like myself — every day humanly possible while maintaining a safe practice, every provider should consider the exciting world of locum tenens.

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