LeaAnn Schroeter, MD would be the first to tell you that a physician working locum tenens is presented with a variety of challenges and even downsides.
Dr. Schroeter was drawn to locum tenens work for the same reason most physicians are — the freedom that comes from its inherent flexibility. A pediatrician married to another physician practicing full-time, she wanted the ability to better accommodate her schedule to his. She also wanted more time with her four daughters, two of whom live abroad, one in Turkey, the other in Nepal. When she received one daughter’s “Mom, we should hang out in Europe together” invitation, she was free to accept, taking a summer off to “wander around Germany doing local people stuff” with her daughter. “It was great fun,” she said.
But that freedom also has a downside that requires accommodation and extra effort to successfully manage. Locums regularly takes her away from home.
Seek out friends
“Our roots are very deep in our community,” she explained. “I really do love being at home. When I’m working [a locums job], I am engaged and I am fine. I don’t get homesick. When I come home, I realize, oh, I missed that little party or this person had this and that.” Keeping engaged with her friends takes more effort now, but it is effort she doesn’t mind expending because she understands their dilemma. “They always assume you’re away so they don’t call you. When you’re home, you have to be super intensive about finding your friends.”
Dr. Schroeter minimizes the effect of her absences by taking shorter assignments, those that get her home on weekends or that keep her geographically close to home.
Don’t be a stranger
What about feeling like a stranger among unfamiliar people and places when she is at a job? Isn’t that a downside of locums? Her solution is natural for her: she engages the community she’s visiting like it were her own. She makes the people she meets her new circle of friends.
She explains how on one job in La Cross, Wisconsin, she had a day free. “I wandered into a knitting shop because they had a nice display and I thought, ‘Oh, this is something I should do’.” In the back of the shop, a knitting club was in session and busy at work. “This looks cool,” she said. “I bought some yarn and needles, and I knit this awesome scarf, and they taught me how to do it, they taught me how to knit.” Taking an interest in what interested them, she made new friends.
Much of her time, of course, is spent with coworkers, staff at the facilities she works for. Due to the short duration of her assignments, she gets herself involved in the staff’s lives quickly. She believes she’s seen as “a very safe person. I can be the one to handle their grievances and listen to them.”
Have sewing machine, will travel
A nurse at one job was complaining that she hadn’t the time or the skills to make curtains before an imminent visit by her in-laws. Dr. Schroeter occasionally brings a sewing machine when working locums, and she just happened to have it this time. “Seriously, I’ve sewn curtains a ton,” she told the nurse, “and I have my sewing machine with me. I’ll make them for you.” Word spread among the staff, and soon the hospital had a new hero.
But heroism takes many forms, some deeper and more subtle than rescuing a staff member from in-law embarrassment.
Making personal connections
At a different locums job, she came to enjoy the company of a pediatrician named Anne. But Anne had a secret she was hiding from the rest of the staff, one that she nonetheless shared with Dr. Schroeter. Anne was terminally ill.
“I became her confidant and her friend,” Dr. Schroeter said. “When I was in town, she ended up having to be in a nursing home.” It was there Anne passed away. “I felt such a privilege to know her because it had been a tough life that she’d had, and I felt like in her last days I made a difference.”
She too has been the recipient of kind acts by her new friends. Staff she’d grown close to created a collage of exotic waterfalls with multiple pictures of her in a kayak, one of her favorite pastimes. They posted it on one of their walls and sent her a note saying, “Now, you are with us always.”
Making friends you may never see again? That’s another downside of locums, but one that Dr. Schroeter is philosophical about. Were it not for locum tenens, she might not have had “the privilege of entering their hearts.”