Demand for psychiatrists has been steadily increasing. By 2025, it’s projected there will be a shortage of at least 6,000 psychiatrists. This means locum tenens psychiatrists will continue to be in high demand for the foreseeable future. For psychiatrists approaching the end of residency, locum tenens is a particularly attractive career option because of its flexibility, high pay, and the chance to try out different medical settings before settling in to a permanent position. We spoke with two recently graduated psychiatrists, Dr. Umesh Bhandari and Dr. Mohamed Sharif, to learn why they chose to work locum tenens right out of residency and how it works for them.
Why locum tenens?
Dr. Umesh Bhandari finished his residency at Ole Miss in 2014. He saw his colleagues sign contracts for traditional roles that didn’t appeal to him — with little opportunity for growth and stifling noncompete clauses. Plus, Dr. Bhandari didn’t want to commit without seeing what type of practice style he preferred.
“The thought process for me was to try some locums work. You get to test drive the hospital and figure out the different nuances in patient populations, resources, and so on,” says Dr. Bhandari. He now works locum tenens across the country, from New Hampshire to Idaho. On the weekends, Dr. Bhandari enjoys exploring the local communities, going to concerts, finding great restaurants, hiking, kayaking, and more.
Dr. Mohamed Sharif finished his residency at Kansas University Medical Center in 2019. Initially, his plan was to work a telepsychiatry job. However, he quickly realized it wasn’t the right fit. When he heard some colleagues mention locum tenens as a career alternative for psychiatrists, he decided to try it instead.
“Locums essentially rescued me from telepsychiatry,” Dr. Sharif says.
A flexible lifestyle
For psychiatrists looking for schedule flexibility, locum tenens is a great career option. Dr. Sharif says the flexibility was the main reason he started working locum tenens. He currently works 18 days on then has 11 days off, giving him the time he wants to go back home and be with his family.
Dr. Bhandari chooses to work two weeks on, two weeks off. He says he chose this schedule for his own health and his patients’ health. According to Dr. Bhandari, when it’s your job to discharge patients having mental health crises — from overdoses to suicide attempts — making the decision of when it’s safe to discharge them is draining and you need time to recover. He says this is especially true for psychiatrists coming out of residency, who aren’t used to making the life-and-death decisions.
“I realized that my window of being on an assignment is about two weeks,” Dr. Bhandari says. “Beyond there I feel like your brain just has to rest. It gives me the ability to provide adequate patient care.”
Balancing locum tenens and family
Dr. Sharif lives in Las Vegas but is currently taking assignments in Ohio. It’s just a short flight away, but being away from his family is still a challenge. In the future, he hopes to bring his wife and two kids along for an assignment.
“I’m basically FaceTiming all the time,” said Dr. Sharif. “I’ve got two little ones at home and my wife, so we FaceTime in the morning and evening. That’s what keeps us going when I’m not home.”
Dr. Bhandari and his wife, who is also a psychiatrist, originally worked locum tenens roles together. However, locum tenens wasn’t a good fit for his wife. She got tired of living out of a suitcase and catching flights, and decided she wanted more consistency in her job.
“My wife prefers the continuity of knowing she is going to be at the same facility every single day, she likes that routine,” Dr. Bhandari says. “For me, I thrive on being able go to a new hospital, learn a brand new EMR, and hit the ground running.”
During Dr. Bhandari’s two weeks off they feel like they have plenty of time together, so the system is working well for them.
Caring for patients as a locum psychiatrist
Dr. Sharif has been working locum tenens at the same inpatient facility for more than a year. He says that these longer assignments have allowed him to build relationships with his patients just as he would have in a permanent position.
“We’re able to establish a relationship that is therapeutic. It’s doable,” Dr. Sharif says. “If it’s a timeframe where folks are able to have multiple visits, then you can still develop a good therapeutic relationship.”
Dr. Bhandari explains that the most important part of his day is what isn’t in his day.
“As a locum, I’m not exposed to some of the bureaucracy in regard to different policies and procedures, and RVU-based compensation,” Dr. Bhandari says. “My job is to show up, see patients, do good work, go home and get a good night’s sleep, then come back and do it all over again.”
Advice for residents about locum tenens
Dr. Sharif recommends that residents keep their options open. “You never know what opportunities are available and it can really add to your experience.” He says locum tenens is a great career alternative for psychiatrists, whether you just take an occasional assignment on the side or work locum tenens full-time like he’s been doing.
Dr. Bhandari’s advice is: “If you’re there, be engaged, be in the moment, work with your patients. They’re looking to you for guidance and information. That can only be done if you’re there and engaged with the patients day in and day out.”
He also recommends locum tenens as a career alternative for psychiatrists. “It’s a great way to get exposure, have a little bit more compensation initially, and figure out where to practice and how to practice.”
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