5 reasons why you should try locum tenens

Illustration for article by Dr Patel on why locums shouldn't be intimidating

Experienced locum tenens and emergency medicine physician, Dr. Rip Patel, shares some of the many reasons he loves working locum tenens and why other doctors should give it a try, too.

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party. Or, in my case, at a brewery watching the Texans potentially almost make it to the Super Bowl. I’m stuffed in benches with friends, and someone asks me what I do. I mention that I work as a locum tenens physician. And after I explain how locum tenens works, I’m always met with envy — envy about how I work for myself, owe no allegiance to any one hospital, and, most importantly, that I am in control of my schedule and how I practice medicine. 

Educating other doctors about the benefits of locum tenens

I do consultation sessions through Mercision Emergency Medicine, speak to residents and medical students, and, most importantly, talk to burned-out colleagues looking for other options. I always reiterate that locums is not for everyone, but delving deep into why you are burned out and finding a solution is paramount.

Here are some of the main talking points that come up through hundreds of discussions I have had on the topic of why switching to locums shouldn’t be intimidating, and the reasons you should try locum tenens: 

1. You dictate your own schedule

Yes, that’s right. Step back and imagine a world where a medical director isn’t making your schedule. You tell your locums agent the dates you want to work, and the agent pitches them to the hospital. Bam, you’re set. Sometimes, they may say your dates don’t work and offer alternatives; remember, you always have a right to decline. Now, imagine if you have multiple locums contracts set up as a contractor, and you can see how easy it is to build your schedule eventually. So stop missing those NFL games, birthday parties, dinner gatherings, and other important life events; there is a way to do it all!

2. There are a large amount of job opportunities

Read that one again, highlight it, then underline again, then circle. In case you missed a million agencies blowing up your email and cell with job opportunities, they are out there, and I anticipate there will be even more. This country has a vast physician crisis, and rural localities feel it even more acutely. They need you; your big city probably doesn’t.

As long as you’re flexible, you can find easy direct flights to states nearby and capitalize on high-paying locums jobs. Some doctors go it alone, and others use agencies that are plugged into hospitals’ day-to-day needs. Once you dive in, you’ll be dizzy with how many options there are. The key is to find which hospitals can minimize your travel and meet the hourly rate you find most appealing. Or maybe they’re in cool spots, and you want to travel a bit.

Get the ball rolling: How to choose a locum tenens agency

3. If travel isn’t your jam, you can do local locums

This is always the big one. That, or you have kids you can’t be away from. A couple of thoughts I have on this: though you’re away, you also control how much time off you want before your next run of shifts. You can also request night or day shifts, whichever you prefer. But if traveling for assignments still does not work for you, consider local locums. These are locums assignments near your hometown that are an hour or so drive away. You could choose to stay there since housing is already paid for, or you can head home after your shifts. I like to have a mix of local assignments and ones that require travel; that way, I can be close to home for some weeks and further from home for others. The assignments away from home may even pay more.

4. You never have to go back to the same location

I know the nightmare scenario we all dread: walking into a disaster. Now, there are ways to prevent this from happening. After you’ve worked the assignment and decided you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back after you’ve finished your run of shifts. It’s as simple as that. That’s happened to me only once in 10 years of doing full-time locums. Still, I always feel a sense of ease knowing if things change at my shop (new directors, new administration, lack of nursing, dangerous levels of boarding), it’s a graceful exit for me until things are back in order. Then, I may choose to return — or not.

5. You don’t have to be all-in

There’s a progression. Usually, people start with a full-time job, then do a bit of locums on the side with agencies for extra money. From there, it’s generally down-shifting to part-time and building up more locums clients through different agencies. Once physicians are all in with locum tenens, they say goodbye to their employer and do full-time locums. The last progression beyond this is hunting down your own contracts and building your solo locums practice to avoid any agency fees. Unfortunately, these can shorten your tenure at hospitals because of the higher rates agencies charge hospitals for their services. Bear in mind, though, that without the agency, you have to do all the legwork yourself. I will delve into this further in my Master Course, so stay tuned! 

Interested in locum tenens but still have questions? Check out CompHealth’s Healthcare Hired podcast for residents and fellows

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Give locum tenens a go

For every negative you may think about locum tenens, I could counter each one with a positive. When you add it all together, there are so many overwhelming benefits of locum tenens that there is no reason not to look into it and see what it’s about. So, stop fretting, start exploring, be unconventional, and see what may lie ahead!

Reasons to work locums tenens out of residency

Emergency medicine physician and veteran locum Dr. Rip Patel asks EM residents why they are considering working locum tenens:

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