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Working locum tenens: Oh, the places you will go

Illustration - locum physician working in different locations

Experienced locum pediatrician Dr. Trevor Cabrera shares some of his experiences working in different locations on assignment — both big and small.

People often ask me about the places I go working full-time locum tenens. The variety of places that may call for help has no shortage of needs; they may range from a sleepy little town in the desert to the bustling metropolitan of a huge city. I have worked in places you’ve never heard of and in places you see in the news almost daily.

Depending on the reason and the season, a small facility or a gigantic institution may call upon the needs of a locum tenens. A private practice or a teaching institution may open its doors asking for locums to come in. Staying open minded keeps me on my toes, to say the least. Which suits me just fine. What I’ve learned is that each place has something great to offer and is unique in its own way — you just have to be open to it.

The town that used to be

After a handful of jobs working in small, critical-access facilities, I have noticed a trend among places with the highest needs for locum tenens: a small town that has seen better days. Over the years, people have emigrated to more urban areas for work or a change of pace. As the makeup of small towns changes, the jobs leave. And as we evolve in technology and science, so do we leave behind many traditions of the past.

Yet, healthcare needs remain in these small towns for those people who have stayed behind and continue to fight to keep their homes alive. In Maine, I have traveled through endless small towns where the mills used to run rampant; now they are statues by the river. In New Mexico, I’ve wandered old railroad towns with remnants of days past serving as bustling hubs for commerce and transportation; now they are but pitstops along the interstate. In North Carolina, I’ve seen the tobacco plants and fields; now they are inhabited only by rats and distant memories. And after several jobs in Small Town USA, I’ve become so well-known among the population that I’ve often been recognized at the local Walmart.

The smaller or more isolated the town, the more likely you will find abandoned businesses and empty brick buildings lining the downtown area; and likely, the more the need for locum physicians. I stop to read the signs and slow down to watch the broken windows reflect the setting sun, wondering about the past that once ran through them. Now, there is nothing but silence.

The city that never sleeps

I was offered my first locum tenens gig at a huge hospital in Missouri. Boasting nearly 40 times the volume of my critical access locales, I found myself working amongst highly recommended pediatricians with the smartest subspecialty consultants around. It was anything but quiet. From having few resources at hand in the facilities in small towns to having everything I could ask for, I found myself returning to the bedrock of medical practice with the newest research and science.

I have worked in metropolitan areas with quick coverage gaps due to a loss of a provider, and while often these jobs may not be permanent, they have allowed me to work with medical students, resident physicians, and fellow physicians, which I enjoy. Surprisingly, larger institutions are not immune to the fluctuations in employment needs, whether short or long term. I have worked in several capital cities, staying in busy downtown locations and fielding calls as the medical control at a referral institution for an entire region. But on the other end of the spectrum, I’m on the other side of the phone listening to myself at the critical-access hospitals, asking for help, asking for transport.

Endless options for locum assignments

The types of jobs available to locum tenens workers are endless, and the opportunities to explore new places is always growing. Whether a small town or a big city, a private clinic, or a teaching hospital, the amount of need for locum tenens physicians never ceases to amaze me. Regardless of where I end up, watching the sunrise by the ocean or the sunset in the desert, there is always a new place to go, new people to meet, and new experiences to collect. So if you ask me where I’ll be next week or next month, I may not know, but I’m sure it’ll be an adventure.

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