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Dr. Patel: How to make locum tenens housing feel like home

Locum tenens housing

Locums has become my life: it is essentially all that I live, breathe, and do, and has allowed me to take firm control of my practice and deliver emergency care — on my terms.

With that has come travel. Lots of travel. As in the TSA agents shouting, “What’s up, Rip?” when I’m in security; the Enterprise employees asking me about my cousin’s prior birthday at St. Arnold’s Brewery in Houston; and the rental car shuttle driver at Sunport in Albuquerque wondering how my prior trip to Egypt was. When travel became my life, I knew my lodging choice would be critical in ensuring my happiness on assignments.

Live in your city

I found the answer to this to be quite simple: live in your city. Don’t get me wrong, staying in a hotel has pros, but it also requires weighing this out against the cons, including: getting rewards points (which don’t go that far anyway), having access to a gym (usually only one run-down machine), and free breakfast (no, it doesn’t look or taste anything like they advertise, though I really wish it did).

Tips for staying in hotels

My hotel choice has been anywhere with a kitchen, simply because I love to cook all my meals. This is far more cost effective, healthier, and cheaper than eating out (assuming a 4-5 day shift stint). In this setting, I enjoy packing a large, high-grade cutting board and sharp knife set — simple tools that may not be available in the hotel (a Ninja is essential). I also pack simple spices/ingredients that might be difficult to find (so yes, this leads to meal prepping). Staying in a hotel — Residence Inn is where you will find me — does have the added benefit of safety, a clean, fresh room each day, and a familiar face to come home to after a long shift. I also generally call the hotel a week or so before an assignment to secure a top corner room to avoid noisy elevators, guests in the morning, and the people stomping on my ceiling.

Tips for Airbnb stays

Dr. Rip Patel

I find the second option for lodging — Airbnb — to be far more desirable. I have been doing the “live-in-your-city” mantra now for many years, and find it a far more refreshing and less “disruptive” way of doing locums. I cherish having an entire house to myself, feeling like I live and work within that city, and having an environment around me that is more like my home in Houston and less like an unfamiliar hotel.

I always ensure the location has AC/heating, Wi-Fi, and an ironing board, with flexible check-in and check-out based on if I have travel delays or I am stuck at the hospital late on my final day. Though being close to the hospital is a benefit, it’s always enjoyable to be closer to the Downtown or in environments I normally wouldn’t frequent. In Vermont I stayed in a cabin outside the city I was working in. There’s nothing like a baby deer pecking at your window to wake you up amidst snow fall in the dark early morning!

Beyond this, I vet out my Airbnbs by the reviews. I hate to say it, but often the worst review (assuming it is reasonably written and not out to trash the host) sheds key insights on what may be wrong in the midst of a plethora of glowing reviews. Usually the stellar spots don’t have bad reviews, or the one bad review is adequately addressed by the host.

I used to enjoy sharing homes, but had awkward experiences when I used the kitchen (and the family is eating breakfast) or bathroom sharing (apologies but that era of my life is over). Also, make sure you are on a quiet, safe street (based on your shift times), and that the host has excellent communication (in case there are issues or you have check-in problems).

A home away from home

Locums is a wonderful way to treat various patient populations, be in control of your life, experience travel in multiple settings, and live in different cities. I think ultimately a combination of hotels (for rewards points when the Airbnb quality is lacking) and houses is a stellar combination to make it far more enjoyable. Your non-work leisure trips will essentially be free (utilizing reward points), and the times you stay in homes you get that feeling that — aside from being in a different city — your day-to-day while on assignment is not that far off from being at home.

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