Andrew Wilner, MD, FACP, FAAN, shares how locum tenens has allowed him to enrich his life both professionally and personally through travel.
I have always considered myself an adventurous traveler. During college summers, I explored Central America, including Panama’s unique San Blas Islands. In medical school, I lived for two years in Lille, France, and visited much of Europe. While an internal medicine resident at Los Angeles County-USC Hospital, I explored Catalina Island’s underwater kelp forests. Later, as a neurology resident and epilepsy fellow in Montreal, Canada, I saw wild moose and beaver north of Quebec City.
And once I settled into private practice as a neurologist in Charlotte, NC, I took regular vacations for a week or two. But it wasn’t until I worked locum tenens “full-time” that the opportunities for travel, both expected and unexpected, really opened up.
Two types of travel
The locum life offers two types of travel: professional travel and personal travel.
While employed at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ, my wife and I fell in love with the desert landscape and ease of living. We were blown away by the strange Saguaro cactus and amazing red rock formations in nearby Sedona, AZ. Had it not been for locums, we would have missed that life-changing experience. We return to Arizona frequently and may eventually relocate there.
The first — professional travel related to the assignment — may be as close as next door, in a neighboring state, across the country, or even in international locations like Australia and New Zealand. I was never picky about an assignment’s location since my primary mission was work. Locums has taken me to Abington, MA; New London, CT; Minneapolis, MN; Phoenix, AZ; Sioux Falls, SD; and many other locations. Without the impetus of an assignment, the only one of those cities I would have visited is New London, CT, as it’s not far from my alma mater, Yale University.
Professional travel and advancement
From a professional perspective, it was educational to observe and participate in medical care in different facilities. For example, I enjoyed the camaraderie at busy Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN, and was impressed by the sophisticated administration of the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ. A year-long experience at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London, CT, provided deep insights into the challenges and function of a community hospital. As an outpatient neurologist at Angels Neurological Centers in Abington, MA, I supervised nurse practitioners and physician assistants while treating upwards of forty patients a day.
These varied experiences taught me what I liked and didn’t like about clinical medicine. They directed me to a current appointment as an Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN. While not a locum tenens assignment, this position satisfies my highest priorities: patient care at a county hospital (like Hennepin), teaching residents (like the Mayo clinic), and sufficient time for family, travel, and writing (like a locums schedule).
But it was the flexibility of a locum tenens work schedule that truly expanded travel opportunities. Reluctant to take more than a couple of weeks off at first, I gradually became accustomed to months between assignments. Without realizing it, I had found the perfect solution to the conundrum of work/life balance.
Had I not traveled for extended periods to Southeast Asia, I would never have visited meat markets in rural Indonesia selling foods not typically seen in U.S. stores, such as bats, dogs, and rats. In the Philippines, I climbed more than one volcano, went white water rafting, and explored sunken WWII Japanese wrecks.
My “time off” also allowed me to develop a career in medical journalism and publish a couple of books. Without the flexibility of locum tenens, I would not have become medical director of Lingkod Timog, a nonprofit medical mission group based in the U.S.
Last but not least, during these travels, I found time to get married and have a baby!
Fantasy into reality
Although I had always considered myself an experienced traveler, travel opportunities dramatically increased once I pursued the locum life. Locums exposed me to different types of hospitals in cities I would never have visited, helped refine my clinical skills, and provided career direction. A flexible schedule allowed trips I could only have imagined in my previous role as a staid partner in a neurology group. Locum tenens turned travel fantasies into realities.
If you enjoy travel and want to travel more, give locum tenens a try. The world awaits!
This article first appeared on CompHealth.com. Reprinted with permission.