Physicians with military experience make great locum tenens doctors

Illustration of military physician choosing locum tenens work

Military physician and veteran locum tenens Dr. Nicholas Kusnezov offers his perspective on why physicians from the military make great locum tenens doctors.

Having spent nine years in active military service, the latter half of which I was increasingly involved in locums, I found several reasons military physicians were exceptionally well-suited for locum tenens.

Infographic with reasons why locum tenens works for military physicians

The characteristics of military doctors are compatible with locum tenens work

Of all compatible characteristics, the most relevant is versatility. As military physicians, we are often placed in unfamiliar and sometimes austere environments, like training and deployment times. This bestows a specific adaptability. As a result, I have found that military physicians are often more accustomed to working in these situations: using whatever materials and instruments are on hand, adapting quickly and effectively, and keeping calm. Walking into a new locum assignment is like a change of station or deployment, where we are placed in a new setting and learn to work with what we have to get the job done safely.

Picture of Dr Kusnezov receiving medal
Dr Kusnezov (right) receiving a medal

Locum tenens physicians — like military doctors — see a variety of patients

Military practice prepares you to care for a wide range of patients. Military physicians may change stations as often as every three years and, in doing so, are exposed to a variety of locations and more diverse patient populations, similar to locum assignments. In my experience, the military patient base is perhaps one of the most diverse. We care not only for active service members, both national and international, locally and abroad, but also for their family members and dependents, veterans, and retirees. This breadth of training and exposure translates seamlessly to the locum tenens setting, where the patient population may vary widely from assignment to assignment.

Expand your military practice types with locum tenens work

I have also found that locums can augment most military practices effectively. After completing training, military physicians are stationed more or less blindly at their first assignment across a number of defined locations, both nationally and internationally. As a result, you often enter these assignments without understanding or saying what your new practice composition is.

As an orthopaedic surgeon in the military, you may be consigned to a community hospital as a general orthopaedist, to a remote or busy trauma center, or to an academic facility where subspecialty cases like joint replacements get sent to other surgeons who have already carved out that niche. While there is a say in this placement process, this is substantially more restrictive than in the civilian world because there are only a set number of possible locations to practice following residency. Most of these are not major academic programs and are more often community hospitals. As a result, the type of practice is usually defined for you by the time you get there. This includes the patient population and volume.

So, how do you get exposure to different practice settings? Locums. Locums is an excellent supplement to this primary practice regarding the type and volume of patients you see. As one example, my primary practice was a community hospital that was rich with joint replacement and sports injuries. Still, to stay sharp with trauma, which I really enjoyed, I covered a number of level one and two trauma centers in the area. This benefit is twofold: this honed skillset translated directly back to my military experience and prepared me for more complex patients that presented. I also maintained this skillset for practice after the military. 

Picture of Dr Kuznezov in the military sitting on a tank

Earn more money working locum tenens

It’s also no secret that locums provides formidable compensation structures. This is often the first or only thing you hear from colleagues who may be actively engaged in locum tenens — how much colleagues are making for assignments. You’re a highly trained physician. Make sure you get paid appropriately for your time. As government employees, military physicians make substantially lower base salaries than their civilian counterparts. Locums supplements that income considerably, so you can easily and comfortably make more than you would starting in a civilian practice.

Dr kusnezove quote on military physicians working locum tenens

Lastly, as an exit strategy, especially from the military, locums allows you to “try before you buy.” As military physicians, our stations are often dictated to us based on need and availability. Locum tenens assignments offer a variety of locations and facilities to experience, giving you an understanding of what you might be looking for in a permanent job and the ability to see the best potential fit. Moreover, as a possible retirement plan, locums allows you to titrate the type and volume of patients you see and travel as much as you want. One of the drawbacks of locums is that you don’t get health insurance. Still, depending on the length of your military service and circumstances surrounding your discharge, you may often end up with lifelong military health insurance, preventing that issue. 

Military physicians should give locums a try

You need not be a professional locum to do locums. Locums can be an excellent supplement to permanent positions, especially while transitioning from military to civilian practice. There’s often a gap you need to bridge during this transition and locums is an ideal bridge, with reliable and favorable income.

You can augment your practice however you see fit, whether financially or to broaden and hone your surgical skills through a specific or more diverse patient population and settings.

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