The Latin term locum tenens is translated as “to hold the place of”; it is typically used to refer to doctors who are filling in for other physicians. However, many physicians use locum tenens as transitional employment while they advance in their career. It’s a flexible way to earn an attractive income and gain experience while searching for the ideal permanent position. Here are the stories of four physicians who used locum tenens to find the perfect physician job.
More bargaining power
Neurologist Dr. Andrew Wilner began his medical career in private practice, but after eight years he was feeling burned out. “The grueling routine had worn me down,” he says. He felt he wasn’t learning much anymore, and his practice had become rote.
Needing a change, Dr. Wilner considered his options. Throughout his career he’d never stopped writing in academic journals, so he figured the logical next move would be to academia. “With aspirations for a more stimulating environment, I left private practice for academia,” he says. “Unfortunately, the new position left much to be desired.”
So rather than stay under contract in a job he didn’t love, Dr. Wilner decided to switch to locum tenens for a while. And as fate would have it, his patience paid off — a new neurology subspecialty emerged: the neurohospitalist. He’d found his niche.
“After my neurohospitalist year, I enjoyed a series of locums assignments,” Dr. Wilner says. “I got to work in a busy outpatient clinic and at three academic institutions. Now that I had identified my ideal practice style, I searched for a similar full-time spot. Locums allowed me the freedom to do this without pressure.”
Dr. Wilner says his negotiating position was strong because he had locums to fall back on. “I was in no rush, so I was able to hold out for the job and pay I wanted.” The result? His ideal schedule and a good salary.
“In this journey, I learned that locums can not only be a career, but it can be a bridge to a desirable permanent clinical position. Locum tenens helped me discover my niche and negotiate a permanent contract. I’ve never been happier!”
Pursing a medical directorship
Interventional GI physician Dr. Bhavesh Shah knew what he wanted out of his career — a medical directorship — but he wanted to make sure he found his just-right position. He was looking for a good paycheck and didn’t want to settle for the first offer that came along. Locum tenens gave him the flexibility and confidence to hold out for the perfect job.
“My whole thing about locums is that I wasn’t going to leave the locums market until I could make a forward move in a leadership sense and in a financial sense,” Dr. Shah says.
His first experience with locums came after he left a job in New York for a move to California, but he decided to continue working locums because of the freedom and flexibility. It allowed him to earn a good income while he searched for a directorship, so he wouldn’t have to settle on a job he didn’t absolutely love.
And the plan worked! Dr. Shah found the position he’d always wanted: chief of endoscopy and director of advanced endoscopy at MetroHealth Case Western Medical Center. “I’ve never been happier. I control my practice and focus more on the patient care and less on the background noise of politics in the administration and metrics.”
Finding the right practice fit
Accepting a new job can be a leap of faith for both the physician and the facility. Each wants a seamless fit, both personally and professionally, and locum tenens is a great way to test the waters before signing a contract.
General surgeon Dr. Steven Berman was able to use locum tenens to “test drive” jobs until he found his ideal position.
After being in private practice for a couple decades, he needed a change. “It was no fun because the hospital had become my enemy. That’s when I began working locums,” he says, “and I really enjoyed it.”
He’d been working locums on and off for six years, when he found himself on assignment in a small rural hospital in North Carolina.
“During that time, I got to know the community and the hospital got to know me and really one thing led to another,” says Dr. Berman. “They were looking for someone to do what I was doing, and I was really enjoying where I was. So they offered me the opportunity to continue in the same capacity but as an employee of theirs rather than an independent contractor through my locums agency.”
For Dr. Berman, the benefit of this professional test drive was knowing what he was getting into when he took the position. “I knew the community, I knew the hospital, I knew the politics of the hospital. So it was certainly much easier to take a job knowing fully what that job was before committing to it, rather than signing on for a job with people you don’t know in a community you don’t know.”
An offer he couldn’t refuse
General surgeon Dr. Demitri Poulis was burned out and needed a change. His wife told him the schedule he’d maintained for nearly 30 years was going to kill him. “She was right. I hadn’t seen the kids for like two years, hadn’t taken a vacation. I was just so tired,” he says. “That’s when I met my recruiter and started working locums.”
His recruiter sent him on several assignments — one to Indiana at a hospital wound center — a setting he hadn’t worked in before. It ended up being a great locums assignment because not only did he gain additional experience, but he was able to establish himself through his hard work ethic.
“After two straight years working locums at the location, I was offered a staff position,” he says. “I think that’s one of the advantages of being a locum — when you go from locum to perm, the administration is going to negotiate better with you because they know what you can do.”
Dr. Poulis says locums gave him the freedom to wait to take the job until they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I told them my terms basically. I told them how much money I wanted, how much time I wanted, and they said, ‘OK.’ I think that’s because they had seen what I had done for the previous two years and knew me.”
More control over your career
Locum tenens is an excellent option for physicians who want to work full-time as independent contractors, but it is also a great way to have more flexibility and control over your career as you try to find the perfect physician job. You’ll be able to make a good income, try out new practice settings, and have the flexibility to hold out for the ideal permanent position.