A guide to working locum tenens with a family

Illustration of doctor who works locum tenens with family

In an era where work/life balance is increasingly valued, locum tenens stands out as a versatile option that allows healthcare professionals to tailor their careers to suit their personal needs and aspirations. From providing the flexibility to create schedules conducive to family time, to opening doors to new experiences through international locums assignments, locum tenens offers many opportunities for physicians and their families to thrive personally and professionally.

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Locum tenens can facilitate greater work/life balance

Schedule flexibility is one of the most compelling advantages of locum tenens with a family. Locum tenens assignments can be a means of achieving a desired work/life balance for many physicians.

For Dr. Jenny Underwood, an OB/GYN based in Texas, her locum tenens schedule affords her the time and focus she wants when on assignment and when she is home with her three young children.

“You’d be really surprised how refreshing it is to have more control of your schedule. It’s almost hard to explain how refreshing it is on both sides,” says Dr. Underwood. “It’s refreshing as a mom to have had that week of doing what you are passionate about and, in your spare time, the ability to exercise and to breathe for a second and then come home refreshed. And then with your job, it’s the same. I’m home and revived by my family and life for three weeks, so I’m ready and excited to go back and do whatever the assignment needs. It gives you that balance.”

Dr. Barry McKenzie, a medical oncologist and hematologist, was in private practice for over 20 years. In 2008, he resigned his partnership at a cancer center to do locum tenens work. While it represented a significant change, his family’s schedule was a motivating factor.

“At the time, I had kids in high school, and I was one of those docs that hadn’t been around for a long time — gone early, home late every night,” says Dr. McKenzie. “I realized that my son needed to have his dad around more. For all those reasons, making a big change made sense to me then. I thought about it for months before deciding to stop working full-time. It’s a big decision for anybody, I think.”

Illustrated infographic with reasons how how locum tenens with a family can work

Dr. Holly Llobet, a critical care physician, shares how before working locum tenens, she and her husband were working so much that they had very little time with each other. Hear how working locum tenens has given them precious time back and enabled them to travel the world.

Locum tenens can help accommodate multigenerational family time

Family time doesn’t refer exclusively to children but also to the desire to be near parents and other extended family. Urologist Dr. Alisa Berger “hung up a shingle” in solo private practice in a small town for a decade before moving back to her hometown. Once there, she worked full-time for a few years before desiring a professional change.

“I knew I didn’t want to move because my parents are here, and I’d just built a house. I also didn’t want to set up a new practice again on my own because I’d already done that. I didn’t know much about locums before I started researching options. I fell into it, but I ended up really enjoying it,” she says.

In addition to prioritizing quality time with her parents, Dr. Berger has two teenage children at home whose schedules heavily influence her locums assignment selection and travel schedule.

Dr. Berger quote of how locum tenens works so she can be a stay at home mom and work at the same time

“The benefit of locums is that I’m basically a part-time doctor, and with two kids at home, it allows me to also be a part-time, stay-at-home mom. That has been a real joy,” says Dr. Berger. “As long as my parents are in this town and my kids are still in school, I see myself taking full advantage of the locums opportunity because it really works out for us.”

Can you make locums work with family at home? These doctors have (Weatherby Healthcare)

Locum tenens assignments can be close to home

Many physicians opt for locums assignments in or near their hometown, especially when balancing home and family life. Local locums assignments offer the flexibility inherent in locum work without the logistical complexities of distant travel.

Dr. Katherine Altieri works full-time in emergency medicine in Arizona and also works local locums assignments on the side. She and her family take advantage of assignments to take vacations and local staycations together.

Dr. Altieri quote on how she makes locums work with her family

“We’ve stayed at really nice resorts and try to have fun. For example, I’ve worked a long string of shifts at Tuba City and then had the family join to visit the Grand Canyon,” she says. “My husband and the kids go out most of the time when I’m working, but I try to put in an extra day in front of or after the shift so that we can all do something together. If I do morning shifts, we can have dinner and do fun things together at night. I think it’s great when you have the opportunity to bring your family with you.”

Locums assignments can be a catalyst for family travel

Some physicians and their families leverage locums assignments to travel together. Dr. Vishnu Potini, an orthopedic surgeon, often schedules family holidays and weekends around locums assignments.

“The ability to travel with our family and see different places helps keep things interesting. We’ll make a weekend of it — especially if it’s a long holiday weekend and there is no school,” says Dr. Potini. “One place our kids love to go is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They know the area well, and there are a lot of museums, historical sites, and family activities to enjoy. I like the assignment, and my family likes to go there and have a mini vacation, too.”

Dr. Underwood and her family use locums assignments to travel similarly, especially in the summer when her kids are out of school.

Dr Underwood quote on how locums gives her schedule flexibility to spend time with her family

“In the summer, if I don’t want to take assignments and just want to spend the summer with my family, I have that ability,” she says. “But a good recruiter will get to know you as a person and will know what kind of jobs to look for. In the summertime, my recruiter knows I’m taking the kids, and he’ll say, ‘I have a good town that you could bring the kids to.’ I really think they consider who you are and what your family dynamic is and try to find stuff that works for you.”

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Gain global experience with locum tenens

For physicians and their families looking for adventures even further from home, an international locum tenens assignment can be the ticket to global exploration.

Dr. Jason Heine jumped right into an international assignment as his first foray into locum tenens. The family medicine practitioner and his family spent a year living in New Zealand.

Dr Heine quote on how international locums worked for him and his family

“Even before our kids were born, we knew we wanted to live internationally for some period of time with our kids and give them that experience,” says Dr. Heine. “We initially said we would go when our kids were a little older. But then, when Covid hit, we realized we could live a mostly Covid-free life by going to New Zealand, so we decided to go earlier than planned. Moving as a family of four to another country during a pandemic could have been quite stressful, so having the logistics handled and having them direct us as to what we needed to do was key.”

Dr. Heine and his family found accommodations near the beach and with a walking commute to the clinic and their daughters’ schools.

“Our commute was really a unicorn. It would be awesome to get this kind of commute living in the United States, but it’s hard with things so spread out,” he says. “Our standard of living is probably higher in the United States, with a bigger and nicer house, but our quality of life in New Zealand was really fantastic.”

Dr. Brent Wright, an OB/GYN based in North Carolina, has participated in medical missions across the globe — including Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Malawi, and Thailand. His family recently joined him on an international locums assignment in New Zealand.

“New Zealand was a great experience — good fit, nice location. My family joined, and we had a really good time. We traveled to other islands and got to do and see a lot as a family. The work/life balance in New Zealand is great.”

Considering international locums work? Find out how it works for other physicians

Locum tenens can help support a physician’s transition to parenthood

Pediatrician Dr. Simran Kalra began working locums right out of residency for the flexibility to travel to visit her now-husband, who was living in Peru at the time. Locums continued to afford the flexibility she needed as she was expecting her first child and preparing for maternity leave. Now, she paves a path forward, balancing work and home with a newborn.

Dr Kalra quote on working locum tenens assignments before birth to make more money

“When I was expecting, I asked my recruiter to load up my schedule so I could earn and save more money,” says Dr. Kalra. “I could also figure out how much time I wanted to take off. I didn’t have to talk to a boss about a maternity leave policy and didn’t worry about my job being in jeopardy if I took more time.”

“Now that I’m returning to work, I can go back as fast as or slow as I want. I’m starting out just covering a few days. I’m going to stay and do local assignments for now — places I’ve already covered that need extra time,” says Dr. Kalra. “Because of locum tenens, I can balance time with my family, time for my profession, time for my patients, and time for myself. It’s really nice. I think everybody should try locum tenens.”

Higher earning potential and financial flexibility through locum tenens

As contractors, locum tenens physicians often enjoy greater earning potential than their full-time peers. For psychiatrist Dr. Jeremy Flagel, this higher hourly rate translated to fewer work hours and more time to spend with his family.

“The first thing that started the conversation about locums was the earning potential. Once that door opened, we thought a lot about what the lifestyle could really be. I was working fewer hours, and it ended up being a bit more lucrative,” says Dr. Flagel. “So, I had more time with my family, and we were able to travel more, and it was really exciting. We just got a different level of family time and opportunities to do things as a family that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

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