Being married to a Cyprian presented a unique opportunity at a very difficult time for Dr. Tina Passalaris. She was working in an academic institution in Seattle and was ready to make a move. At that same time, her husband’s father was terminally ill with cancer back in Cyprus, and with the long hours working and a new baby allowing very little sleep, they decided to pack up and move to Cyprus to give her husband’s family the chance to dote on their grandchild – and for them to get some much-needed sleep.
While visiting her father-in-law, Dr. Passalaris discovered that the oncology center where he was being treated was in need of an oncologist. She decided this would be a perfect chance to support her father-in-law, using this opportunity to stay sharp with her specialty’s skill-set. Her plan was to spend a year working at the facility.
“I discovered that I could help out in the oncology center where my father-in-law was receiving his treatments,” she shares. “He was a stage-4 cancer patient at the facility, and they had an opening. I thought this was great; I could support my father-in-law and work at the same time.”
A perfectly timed opportunity to test the waters
One year turned into three, but then Dr. Passalaris found herself dissatisfied with the facility where she worked and was looking for a change. A colleague friend of hers mentioned that she was going on maternity leave and would need someone to fill in for her, and Dr. Passalaris decided to help her out. This is essentially where her locums journey unofficially began.
“When my experience there began to deteriorate, I emailed a friend to vent. She needed coverage for her maternity leave, so we agreed that I would cover for her for four months,” she shares.
This went so well that she decided to make locums her full-time job.
Now Dr. Passalaris, her husband, and two kids are happily settled in a “lovely” pastoral town in Cyprus, where Dr. Passalaris spends her free time helping her children with their thoroughbred rescue. She proudly shares how her then 15-year-old daughter wanted to start a farm where they could rescue abused former racehorses.
“I was able to use my time between assignments to plan how this would all work. I wouldn’t be able to do anything like this is if I were working full-time somewhere. That’s what I do; I’m with my children,” she says.
Making the most of every moment between assignments
When she’s not on an assignment, Dr. Passalaris has plenty of things to keep her busy, and she takes joy in doing day-to-day mom things – even those things others may find mundane. Since her assignments are on a different continent than her family, Dr. Passalaris knows this time with her family is precious.
“I do mom things; I can take them to all of their activities, to school, and I can even go to my children’s plays and recitals. When I’m home, I’m 100-percent a mom,” she shares. “I’m very much involved with their daily lives. I know who their friends are, I know who their teachers are. When I worked full-time, this was impossible.”
Dr. Passalaris also used her time between assignments to write a book on cancer prevention, called Cancer Prevention for Life.
“I was able to spend time in the library doing research while my daughter was in school,” she says, “and I got the book published. I was able to do this in my first few years of doing locums, so that was my project aside from being a mom then.”
Living life on her terms, both personally and professionally
The intense hours of a full-time position didn’t sit well with Dr. Passalaris. They were long, and didn’t allow for the family time she envisioned for herself.
“I basically worked all the time. I was at work before the kids woke up. I couldn’t make it home until well after a respectable dinner hour, and when I was home I would have to sign onto the VPN and finish all my charts and clean up my email. It really was a miserable experience.”
The mere fact that she can live in beautiful Cyprus while earning a good income working locum tenens makes it worthwhile. She’s in total control of her schedule, and she’s found that assignments of up to six weeks is ideal. July and August are typically reserved for family trips, so she takes those months off to travel with her family.
“I say no to assignments when I want, and no one’s going to look down on me for that,” she says. “It’s not like when you’re employed in a practice and you’re considered a lower-level physician because you take time off with your children.”
Dr. Passalaris says working locums as a full-time profession takes bold action, because it’s scary for physicians to lose what they see as job security, but she wouldn’t do anything differently. She feels doctors sacrifice freedom in order to have what they feel is job security, to the detriment of their personal lives.
“To quote Ben Franklin: ’Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’”