Nicholas Kusnezov, MD, explores the skills and characteristics that make a great locum tenens physician.
A mentor of mine once told me that in order to be successful in medicine, I would need to master the “three A’s” — affability, availability, and ability. These have long been considered the “three pillars” of medicine and, in my experience, for good reason. Be proficient in these principles, and you will be the best doctor that people have ever worked with. These character traits are more important than ever right now, with the stakes higher than ever and our healthcare teams facing unprecedented stress.
Affability is often a quality that is lost in the fast-paced and often tense medical environment. Simply being nice, approachable, and easy to get along with will set you apart. In general, as a physician, other medical staff and administration are trying to work with you to make your and your patients’ experiences the best they can be. You are often seeing patients and their families on one of the worst days of their lives. Similarly, many medical support staff are overworked and underpaid. Be understanding of frustrations that may arise as a result of these factors.
Affability especially applies to dealing with other physicians. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or frustrated at times, but whether you are dealt a midnight consult or have simply had a long week, remember that you’re the expert and whoever is contacting you needs your help. Be nice to nurses, residents, other physicians, and every cog in the wheel. Each has a unique ability to make your life easier and your experience more pleasant — or make it all the more difficult. People will often bend over backward to help an affable physician and take their time or avoid helping an unpleasant one.
Availability is important in many regards. To leave the best impression, it is essential to be available to your medical colleagues, patients, and other healthcare professionals. This establishes a mutual respect. Be punctual for surgical cases or consults and accessible for questions regarding patient management. This will leave your colleagues with the best impression of you but is dually important to avoiding delays in patient care.
Be available for your patients and their family as well. Always meet your patients before surgery, see them after surgery, and ensure continuity of care for after you leave. If not for the sake of decency, this is at least important for the sake of minimizing litigation. Complications occur in medicine, and patients and families are much less likely to sue someone they know and moreover that they like than someone who was rude, who they can’t remember, or who they have never met before.
Lastly, be available for consults from and discussions with other providers. This is vital to networking. If someone calls you for a consult, be quick to respond and easy to work with. Providers will remember this, and not only will they be more likely to give you additional business in the future, word travels quickly in the medical field and this will draw in more business for you. Of course, the converse of this holds true as well.
Ability is the final critical component of success both at your locum assignment and in the medical field in general. My advice is to be thorough and be good at what you do. Your documentation matters. Patient outcomes matter. It is easy to be complacent and just do what is expected of you at a locum assignment, especially for one which you may not plan on returning to. However, you will quickly develop a reputation based on your perceived ability, and the medical field is very interconnected. Demonstrating ability, or competency, as a physician in your field is essential to being considered and treated as a professional.
Those three habits: affability, availability, and ability are more than just platitudes. They will help you be more successful in your career — in both good times and hard ones — and to become the “best doctor” people have ever worked with.