Andrew Wilner, MD, FACP, FAAN, offers advice on how locum tenens is a viable alternative for physicians at any stage of their career.
In my latest book, The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens, I devote a chapter to each of the three phases of a physician’s career: newly graduated, mid-career, and late-career. Locum tenens is a career option more and more physicians are taking for the extra income, schedule flexibility, and improved work/life balance.
Newly graduated physicians
Physicians just out of residency or fellowship have discovered that locum tenens is a great way to test out different facilities in new geographic locations. Locums also exposes them to various practice styles, is a great way to hone their newly acquired skills, and gives them an opportunity to observe how their peers work. A newly graduated physician’s priorities are different than seasoned physicians. They want to refine clinical skills, quickly pay off student loans, and take the time to scrutinize employment options before signing a long-term contract — all of which can be accomplished with locum tenens.
Locum tenens assignments also enable couples to synchronize their lives. For example, a physician who has completed training may use locums for a year to earn an income while his or her partner finishes up their schooling. Then, they can begin their post-graduate professional careers together.
Mid-career physicians often employ locums to augment their income. There may be life circumstances that destabilize a household budget — new home, student debt, children — but working locums can help restore financial balance when cash flows out faster than it trickles in.
More and more mid-career physicians wishing to leave medicine are exploring non-clinical careers. Locums can be a bridge to a non-clinical job by providing an income stream until the new venture takes off.
In many cases, once a physician has been out of clinical medicine for a couple of years, it may be nearly impossible to obtain malpractice coverage or hospital privileges. Practicing medicine as a locums is a terrific insurance plan that allows a return to clinical medicine if the new career doesn’t pan out.
I consider myself to be in the late-career physician category. At this stage of my career, I feel I’m able to preserve my physician identity by working locums if I decide to leave my full-time academic position. A part-time schedule would also free up time for neglected personal pursuits.
Financial security is a crucial concern for late-career physicians. For example, the financial crisis of 2008 forced some happily retired physicians back to work. Employment was problematic for those out of practice for two years or more. Getting a job would have been easier had these retired physicians worked an occasional locum tenens assignment.
And locum tenens is great for physicians who just aren’t ready to fully retire. Patients and facilities alike will also benefit from skilled, experienced physicians — and you’ll be able to continue doing what you love.