Nearing the finish line on your medical training? Before you accept a permanent position as an attending physician, you may want to consider locum tenens as one of your career options after residency or fellowship. Locums offers a more flexible schedule, excellent pay, and the opportunity to continue learning new skills that will be invaluable in your medical career. But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what four physicians who worked locum tenens right out of residency had to say about why they chose locums.
1. You can pay off your student loans more quickly
Dr. Lee Green, a hospitalist, has been working locum tenens for more than five years. He says the higher pay he earns from locum tenens assignments will help him pay off his medical school debt and fulfill his goal of working in underserved areas.
“The opportunity locums affords me is one where I can make a bit more money than I would have in an office setting. I’m hoping to pay off my student loans. Once I pay off my loans, my wife and I want to go back to South Africa — where I’m originally from,” he explains. “The U.S. has need of more doctors, but South Africa and other places in sub-Saharan Africa are in much more of a crisis situation.”
Since Dr. Green knows he would not earn enough in South Africa to pay off loans, he says he plans to continue working locum tenens indefinitely because it will allow him to earn additional compensation while he’s practicing outside the U.S.
“I plan to stay with locums for some part of the year and live in both places, maybe doing three to four months here in the states. Then with the money I earn here, I can facilitate living the rest of the year in South Africa and getting paid little or nothing,” he says.
2. You’ll enjoy a flexible schedule that works for your lifestyle
“Locum tenens makes a lot of sense for a hospitalist. Most of the positions these days are seven on, seven off. You can essentially structure a similar schedule or work the shifts you want. If you want to take two, three, four weeks off or longer, you can easily do that by booking your shifts,” he explains. “You don’t have to worry about contractual obligations to a hospital. Whatever your personal situation demands, you are able to structure your schedule.”
Dr. Dothager notes that his Weatherby Healthcare consultant helps him set his schedule by offering shifts available at different hospitals for times when he wants to work.
“If I have a stretch of time where I need to take off, whether it be for personal or family reasons or simply travel, I can block out a time. I don’t have to work during that period,” he says. “It really does provide a level of flexibility you wouldn’t have elsewhere.”
Locum tenens is also a great option when you want to take more time for maternity leave or to care for a child, Dr. Simran Kalra, who specializes in pediatrics, says.
“I didn’t have to talk to a boss and say, ‘What’s your maternity leave policy?’ Usually it’s six weeks for vaginal or eight weeks for a c-section, and that’s it. You can talk with them about maybe taking more time off, but at that point your job might be in jeopardy,” Dr. Kalra explains. “You won’t be paid during that time necessarily. I could choose how much time I wanted to take off, and I could go back to work as fast or as slow as I wanted to.”
3. You can gain new skills
Dr. Kalra also says locum tenens has helped her become a better doctor. She explains that the “jump-right-in” mentality of locums has forced her to become more adaptable and a quick learner.
“It helps me acclimatize to different clinical situations. You have to work with people and work with the tools they have. You’re going to be a little bit slower your first day compared to a patient’s regular physician, but you do have to adjust pretty quickly just to keep the flow. It definitely keeps you on your toes,” she says.
Dr. Kalra says that learning a new electronic medical record platform at each assignment also ensures she stays on top of the latest technology.
“Electronic medical records are everywhere, and they’re not going anywhere. Each hospital or clinic has their own different platforms, so everywhere I go I have to learn their particular platform,” she explains. “I actually enjoy learning that. Sometimes it can be a little burdensome, but that’s one thing you have to be able to do.”
4. It can make the transition easier
After Dr. Franklin Mikell, a hospitalist, finished his residency and a year of work in a permanent position, he decided to transition to locum tenens work to be closer to family. The flexible work schedule helped him start working toward another goal as well.
“In the process of working locums, I realized an undiscovered desire to pursue fellowship. It had kind of always been in the background, but I just never really actively pursued it,” Dr. Mikell says. “I realized I had extra time to apply and obtain recommendation letters, so I just went ahead and pursued it.”
The flexibility locum tenens affords is also refreshing after long hours spent in residency.
“I have control over my schedule as opposed to having a set, regimented schedule that was created by the hospital. I found out one assignment I had set up independently for myself in Indiana fell through. With that I was able to offer some dates to Manny, my recruiter, for a hospital in Ohio,” Dr Mikell recalls. “It’s great to have that flexibility and the freedom to morph the schedule to what I wanted at the drop of a hat.”
5. You can try out different work settings
As a pediatrician, Dr. Kalra has had the opportunity to hone her skills in many different clinical settings. Sometimes it means welcoming babies into the world, while other times it means doing well-child exams and watching those babies grow. She likes getting experience in a variety of health facilities and in both rural and urban areas.
“Some benefits of locum tenens have been seeing other clinics and hospitals and how they work, because every place does it a little differently,” she says. “Every place has better ideas about how to do certain things, so I can sometimes bring those ideas to another clinic. I like clinic work and I like hospital work, and locum tenens means working in different set-ups.”
Dr. Mikell says working in numerous settings makes you a better clinician, adding to your arsenal of tricks to adequately address patient concerns.
“Locum tenens helps you improve the plasticity of your brain. I feel you gain a wrinkle or two every time you’re forced to learn a new electronic health record or you’re exposed to a new pathology in a patient you probably didn’t have exposure to during residency,” he says. “Medicine is an ever-evolving field, and there are newly developed technological advances to better address what the patients are presenting for. Sometimes certain healthcare facilities will be somewhat more advanced in implementing those than others.”
Brian McCormick, pediatrics team manager at Weatherby Healthcare, says working in a variety of settings helps to remove the urgency of finding a job right out of fellowship or residency.
“Urgency can put a doctor at a position of vulnerability when they are signing contacts. If they really need the job, they may accept an opportunity not in the location they prefer or get kind of beat up in initial negotiations because of this expectation that they need to be employed in July,” he explains. “Locums removes the urgency from them. They do not need to sign the first opportunity, but they can be patient enough to sign the right opportunity.”
6. You’ll expand your professional network
One big benefit of locum tenens work for Dr. Dothager has been meeting many different clinicians throughout the country.
“Locum tenens has allowed me the opportunity to work in multiple facilities and make contacts in various parts of the country. I’ll meet physicians who’ve worked in New York and California and Florida and in all corners of the United States. It’s really provided networking opportunities for the future, however long I decide to continue working locum tenens,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to travel and meet people I wouldn’t necessarily get to meet working in one place full-time.”
Dr. Green says the idea that you can’t make connections through short-term jobs isn’t true.
“I’ve been at the hospital I’m at now for six months, so I’ve established a lot of strong relationships there,” he says. “I still keep in touch with the folks at the hospital in Dayton, Ohio, on occasion. They still ask after me and see if I can come back there.”
Locum tenens is a great career option for new physicians. Whether you want to work in many different places, earn a higher salary, or just have a more flexible work schedule, you’ll find many benefits if you give locum tenens a try.