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The benefits of long-term locum tenens assignments

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Pediatrician Dr. Trevor Cabrera shares some of the reasons he loves working long-term locum tenens assignments.

When I first started working as a professional locum tenens pediatrician, I focused on becoming adept at maneuvering new hospitals and systems. I’ve made close ties with the staff and established professional relationships to garner requests for extension of contracts. Over time, I have gained a preference for finding consistency at a job site, as opposed to sliding into a role at a new facility every week or every month. I’ve found many benefits of taking long-term locum tenens assignments.

Besides the obvious benefits for my curriculum vitae showing longevity at a job site as well as the decreased clutter for new credentialing, I enjoy the continuity and deep interpersonal relationships that constantly remind me of why I went into medicine in the first place.

Becoming a regular

Becoming a “regular” at a facility has many benefits that start with familiarity. As a stranger, it’s difficult to trust a new provider; but with time, not only is trust appreciated, but growing understanding for practice nuances are incorporated into teamwork. And finesse is also improved in team dynamics. Just as in any permanent job, the more time someone has to learn about you, the more the barriers to communication come down. Then it becomes easier to do what you love — in this case, to practice good medicine and to help those who need it.

When a new system becomes old

I am constantly asked by friends of mine in permanent jobs about my prowess with electronic medical records (EMRs). To date, I have used over half a dozen varieties of computer systems and have developed the ability to learn a new system in the morning and immediately start seeing patients in the afternoon. Partly due to my medical training in the era of EMRs, a new system isn’t much of a scare to me. With practice comes perfection — and eventually instinct. Rotating at the same hospital site allows me to strengthen my knowledge of an EMR, shrinking the administrative time that so many of my colleagues are wary of. It gets much less difficult to do my job when the tools at my disposal become extensions of my own hands.

When a face becomes family

Continuity of care is important in medicine, particularly in pediatrics. It’s difficult for many small communities struggling to retain a consistent physician, usually due to geography. Consistency benefits the provider and patient relationship. Scheduling appointments can be frustrating for a family when they are always asked to see a new provider and re-explain their story for the twentieth time. By returning to the same clinic or hospital over and over, or by working multiple consecutive shifts, patients get to know their provider and become more trusting in their own care.

I will never forget an assignment when I spent months as the clinic pediatrician for a small rural town of 22,000 in the desert of New Mexico. As I walked into the local Walmart, I hear a father exclaim, “Hey! Dr. Cabrera! Look everyone, that’s my baby’s doctor.” It was a wonderful feeling and an important appreciation as a pediatrician that is typically enjoyed by those in permanent jobs, but also locum tenens on long-term assignments.

Why long-term locums works for me

The contracts and the needs of locum tenens is fleeting, and there are pros and cons to the flexibility to leave a job site after one week and never go back — sometimes things just don’t click. However, over time I have learned to encourage repetition as it has strengthened my relationships with patients, other providers, and led to the development of connections throughout the country. I will go where I am needed, but I always hope that I am needed back.

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