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Why doctors choose locum tenens, and why they recommend it

Doctors are often surprised by the benefits of locum tenensbetter pay, more time with family, freedom from office politics, just to name a few. Here are some physicians who tell us why they choose to work locum tenens and recommend it to their fellow physicians.

Higher earning potential for locum tenens physicians

Psychiatrist Dr. Greg Carr had a full-time job lined up when he finished his residency. There was only one problem: The hospital in Hawaii that wanted to hire him needed four months to complete credentialing and licensing that full-time employment required. But Dr. Carr didn’t have four months. He needed to start earning a paycheck now.

His solution? How about a four-month locum tenens assignment in Hawaii while the hospital worked on the paperwork? As soon as it was done, he could sign the paperwork and begin his full-time position. The hospital agreed, and Dr. Carr soon had boots on the ground, laying the groundwork for what he thought was going to be a dream job. 

To call what happened next a rude awakening wouldn’t be fair. Dr. Carr enjoyed his responsibilities and the people he was working with. But little by little he was noticing something: “I realized that in Hawaii, the locum doctors were happier because they were getting paid more. As a locum tenens physician myself, I didn’t have the burden of the call on the weekend. The doctors that were full time — there was kind of this underlying jealousy because the locums were getting paid better and had more freedom. I started to realize, hey, it’s not so bad being a locum! And if I hadn’t begun the assignment as a locum physician, I wouldn’t have had the freedom to move to another facility easily.”

Power to be your own boss

Locum tenens gave Dr. Carr the power to choose when and where he wanted to work. When his first contract ended, he merely passed on the full-time offer and took a new locums contract elsewhere. Today, he sees locums as something in between working for the company and working for himself. “Some people are entrepreneurs, some are not,” he says. “For the people in the middle — locums could really help you test the waters of being your own boss.”

Locum physician Dr. William Barrett, a general surgeon, would echo this sentiment. After 16 years in traditional, full-time employment, he decided he wanted more control over his career and life; there were other interests he wanted to pursue. He remembered the benefits of working locums for a few months after his residency and decided to go back.

“I think I have more of an independent mindset,” he says, happy now in his role as a long-term locum physician. “I have time to schedule the vacations that I want. I don’t have to negotiate with partners or with employers to get maybe half the time that I want, which is what it used to be like.” He also has the freedom to do more volunteer work, which, depending on the year, can be a big priority.

“When I was working full time, I didn’t have any time to do that,” he says, “and it’s something that I really enjoy. I work with a couple of organizations. If they’re on a particular mission that’s something I want to contribute a lot to — with locums, I have the flexibility to do that.”

When Dr. Barrett isn’t working or volunteering, he’s visiting friends — another facet of his life that locums makes both easier and more fulfilling. “I have a tremendous variety of friends,” he says, “basically, around the world right now. That’s one of the reasons why I like to do locums. I like to visit them and do things with them. If I was working full time, I just can’t do those things.”

New opportunities to sharpen your skills

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nicholas Kusnezov sees locums as an important opportunity doctors can use to experience new settings and expand their expertise beyond what they may have achieved in medical school and residency. As an up-and-coming orthopedic surgeon, he says, “you may end up in a practice that confines you to a certain ‘niche.’ For instance, you might be the orthopedic ‘shoulder’ guy, stuck filling your schedule with procedures you may not be passionate about, while your partner ends up siphoning all the sought-after total joint replacements.”

A good way to avoid getting in these ruts, Dr. Kusnezov says, is to work locums. “Locums offers the potential to selectively diversify and control the scope of your practice,” he says, “and thereby increase your professional experience and skill set.” In his view, locum tenens is a proactive response to the challenge of staying on top of advancements in medicine.

“Medicine is a dynamic, ever-changing field that is advancing at an accelerated pace,” he says. “Locums will expose you to a variety of different settings, medical staff, and novel concepts in diagnosis and management, which will in turn keep you sharp, relevant, and up-to-date with the state of the art.”

Chance to make a difference

Otolaryngologist Dr. Kimberly Atiyeh can second all of the reasons Dr. Carr, Dr. Barrett, and Dr. Kusnezov might give to a fellow physician thinking about locum tenens. “Toward the end of my fellowship, I knew I wasn’t ready to make a decision about what I wanted for my ‘real job,’” says Dr. Atiyeh. “I knew I needed more time. Locums gave me flexibility to continue my job search and not feel pressure to take the first job that I could.” In her words, it gave her a chance to “relax.”

Dr. Atiyeh has likewise come to appreciate locums for the independent lifestyle it’s granted her. Over the years, she’s used her time off between contracts to visit friends in other states, participate in academic conferences, and, of course, spend more time with family. Her sister’s Iron Man triathlon has been a particular highlight. “I was able to actually be there for her and partake in all the events surrounding it.” 

One key locums benefit that Dr. Atiyeh believes is one of locum’s most rewarding, is the opportunity to help out at hospitals and clinics that desperately need her help. This affords her the opportunity to provide specialized care to patients who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. Thanks to locums, she’s at the right place at the right time to make a difference.

“The people who are there are working their butts off and seeing a ton of patients and trying to get them in as soon as possible,” she says. “They are just really, really overworked. When I show up and patients come in to see me, they are so thankful and so appreciative to see me.” 

Recommended by doctors everywhere

Being a doctor is hard, and the day-to-day grind of most full-time positions just isn’t on your side. These days more and more doctors are looking for ways to avoid burnout. They’ve found they’re also able develop their skills, carve out time for other interests, and even increase their income. And locum tenens has been the solution.

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