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3 ways physicians use locum tenens for career transitions

illustration - physician career transition

If you’re thinking it’s time to make a career move, you may want to consider locum tenens as a way to bridge the gap. Many physicians use locums to smoothly transition between career phases or to fill an employment gap. We spoke to several physicians about three different ways locum tenens helped them successfully transition from one phase to the next and what they learned along the way.

1. Early career: From residency to permanent job

Finding the right position after residency can take some time, and it may even require some reflection about what type of setting you like the most. Working locum tenens after residency helped physiatrist Dr. Mojgan Saber discover how much she enjoys teaching residents and medical students.

“I started right out of residency because locums would allow me to travel and work. I really enjoyed it, so I kind of did that for 10 years. It allowed me to travel all over different states in the U.S. and I really enjoyed it and got to know different people. And then in the process, I got positions where there was also a teaching kind of program,” Dr. Saber says.

That led her down her current path where she’s the medical director of an acute rehab unit and assistant professor at UCLA.

OB/GYN Dr. Ashita Gehlot started with a private practice right of residency, but the setting wasn’t quite the right fit. So, she decided to work locums while she looked for a better opportunity.

“I wanted to continue to hone my skills and continue to use everything that I had learned. Locums came along, and it was a unique opportunity,” Dr. Gehlot says. “I’ve gotten to meet some really wonderful people and work in some diverse environments, so it’s been a really fun journey.”

2. Mid-career: Filling a gap between permanent jobs

Physicians often use locum tenens to fill an employment gap between permanent positions. Dr. Bhavesh Shah, an interventional gastroenterologist, has used locum tenens more than once to bridge the gap between jobs.

“My first experience of locums was in 2014. I was living in upstate New York and was looking to move to California,” Dr. Shah says. “I’ve since used it as another long stint in between jobs as well.”

He likes the flexible scheduling of locums. “When it comes to how long your assignment is, or if you want weekends on or off, that’s always negotiable in locums,” he says. “And that’s definitely not true with your standard job.”

Dr. Ana Zamora, a pulmonology and critical care physician, relied upon locums to transition between jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a very difficult time to be mostly unemployed, because everybody went into a hiring freeze. All the hospitals were draining money, so there was no way I would find a job, or at least not one that was desirable to me,” Dr. Zamora says. “One of my friends told me about locum tenens, and referred me to a specific agency, Weatherby Healthcare. It was just fantastic; they tailored the perfect job for me. It was just two pulmonary doctors working in a 10-bed ICU. Then one of them got COVID and the other doctor was very overwhelmed, so they were very grateful for my help.” 

3. Late career: From full-time practice to retirement

Locum tenens can be a flexible way to keep practicing while transitioning into retirement. That’s what family medicine physician Dr. Keith Anclam did. It was a way to slow down, but still be able to share his skills with communities in need.

“They have the need, and they appreciate anybody being there,” Dr. Anclam says. “Of course, they would rather have a full-time physician, but I worked in a small town for 28 years and I can tell you it’s not easy to recruit people. It might take two years to get a family practice guy or sometimes even longer.”

Dr. Marye McCroskey, also in family medicine, used locums to transition from private practice to a more relaxed way of life.

“I had been in private practice for 25 plus years when I got a good offer from our hospital to buy our practice out. I knew I wasn’t quite ready to give up practicing altogether, and that was when I decided to pursue locums,” Dr. McCroskey says. “My husband and I were always interested in traveling, and he’s a scuba diving instructor, so we started off looking at positions overseas. I ended up with a really nice position in Hawaii that I did off and on for close to three years and then took a position in St. Thomas for about a year. I’m now down in Key West.”

Locum tenens for physician career transitions

If you’re at a key career crossroads, locum tenens can be a great way to transition between career phases.

Dr. Shah is now in a full-time position, but he expects to use locums down the road for other transitions. “I know that if I’m not happy, the locum market is there for me and that’s a really good feeling. Knowing that you have a backup is always a good feeling,” he says.

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