The opportunity of a lifetime working international locum tenens

Feel like dipping your toes in the clear, aquamarine waters in the Caribbean? Want to experience all the outdoor adventures New Zealand has to offer, and enjoy these experiences with your family? Do you have the inclination to work with underserved populations in rural Australia? Or bring your knowledge and expertise to the United Arab Emirates?

International locums makes all these a possibility. Most associate locum tenens assignments as being something only available in the U.S. The opportunities are much broader, however, with opportunities in most specialties in locales as diverse as Guam, the outback of Australia, the Caribbean islands, China or Canada.

As with any locums assignment, there are pros and cons, upsides and downsides. As one can imagine, there’s more paperwork involved with working internationally. Another consideration is length of assignments. The expectation with international locums assignments is anywhere from a month to one year, or longer if the locums physician chooses to extend the assignment. In comparison, domestic locums assignments can be just a few shifts, so international locums physicians may have a much longer commitment. However, there are some U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific islands that offer shorter term jobs.

Some, like Dr. Tara Piech, started working international locum tenens as a means to live in New Zealand permanently. She said there were many draws for her and her husband: “the weather, nature, the relaxed lifestyle, sensible political climate, and the universal medical care.”

As soon as she retired from the military, she took an assignment in New Zealand, and from then on they made it their home.

At the outset of her assignment, Dr. Piech had a bit of professional culture shock. She initially was taken aback that family medicine doctors in New Zealand couldn’t order tests like MRIs or CT scans without specialist approval, but after a while working within the New Zealand healthcare system became second nature.

One hiccup? “We wanted to bring our three dogs. The hardest part of working international locums for me was working out how they could be with us, which ended up being costly and logistically difficult.”

Working internationally may be the cure for physician burnout

International locums jobs can also be a great opportunity to recharge your life and career. Our latest physician workload survey found 40 percent of physicians say their job satisfaction suffers because of burnout, and 53 percent have considered leaving their profession altogether. International locums may be the cure.

Some physicians liken working international locum tenens to a working sabbatical. It’s a chance to both learn and teach. Depending on the area and healthcare system, a physician from the U.S. would be bringing first-world medicine to some locations without that luxury, giving the locum exposure to different ways to practice medicine in varying settings. At the same time, locums physicians in rural or less-than-first-world facilities will need to call upon their basic diagnostic skills rather than rely on a CT scan or other technology.

Working international locums does come with some hurdles. For example, doctors in Australia earn a similar salary to doctors practicing in the U.S. but other international locations may not have the same compensation that U.S. physicians are used to. Dr. Sean Ryan and Dr. Doug Smith , however, both report that this wasn’t a deterrent, because they were able to provide much-needed coverage all while exploring that part of the world. Also, airfare, housing, and a car are typically covered while on assignment.

Working international locums for an unforgettable experience

Dr. Ryan and his wife saw working international locums as an opportunity to explore other parts of the world – while making money – before their daughter began school.

“We’ve been on other trips, and we don’t remember them because we packed so much in the short time we had,” he said. “But when you live somewhere for nine or 12 months, you get to know the people and the place.”

And since there are usually generous paid vacation days, they followed the advice of a New Zealand native colleague and traveled extensively: “We visited the Cook Islands, Fiji, and Bali,” Dr. Ryan recalls.

Dr. Ryan and his wife take the time he’s not working to explore and “live like the locals.” He and his wife also note the importance of seeking out ways to become part of the community, especially since assignments are typically three months and longer. “Don’t hesitate to push yourself into the culture and meeting people.”

Dr. Jason Lambrese worked in New Zealand right out of residency and found that the ability to travel on the weekends meant he saw a lot more of the world on his assignment than he was expecting. He said this about his experience:

“I love that I didn’t have to work the weekends and could travel. By the end we were traveling every weekend. We were looking for the cheap fares. I got to see and do a lot. We could put the real life stuff on hold because there really wasn’t much real life stuff to do out there except work and pay a few bills and that was it. I had that freedom to adventure and to explore a lot more than I give myself time to do here (in the U.S.)”

All in the family – with a little bit of paperwork

One consideration both Dr. Ryan and Dr. Smith mention is to pre-plan what spouses will do while they’re on assignment. Do they want to work? Take the time to travel in their free time? As you can imagine, the rules for a lengthy stay vary from country to country, so do your research. And seek the help of professionals who specialize in international locums. They can also help with securing visas, a sometimes daunting process.

Many international locations will take physicians right out of residency but some may have requirements for board certification or other post-graduate training and experience. Doctors who attended a medical school listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools can qualify for work in, for example, Australia and New Zealand.

Dr. Ryan’s wife Indira was planning to work as a speech language therapist, but they discovered that securing the necessary certifications and licenses was too onerous. Instead, she decided to volunteer with an Australian program helping immigrants improve their English. Dr. Smith’s wife Barb chose to use her time to volunteer and explore the surrounding areas. “I didn’t want a job because Doug only worked four days a week, and we wanted the flexibility so we could travel when he wasn’t on duty,” she shares.

Planning, preparation, and a taste for adventure

The key to working international locum tenens is to do your research. Reach out to experienced professionals who can help to arrange and secure the necessary paperwork and certifications. Considerations such as living in a unique culture with different practice settings, treatment modalities, and housing should be accounted for, and, of course, ready yourself for an adventure you will remember forever.

For more information on international locum tenens assignments check out Global Medical Staffing’s locums 101 guide.

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