For the first 20 years of his critical care pulmonology career, Dr. Marc Quinn never considered working locum tenens. After working locum tenens for more than two years, he says he can’t see himself doing anything else for the next 10 years. Locums has enabled Dr. Quinn to step in for underserved communities, given him fresh insight into the challenges and opportunities of pulmonologists in different practice settings, and allowed him to control his time.
“I’m not sprinting on the treadmill anymore, so to speak,” Dr. Quinn reflects “I have time to shut down and piddle around the house so I can reengage when it’s time to go back to work. I feel like a better doctor.”
Locum tenens found Dr. Quinn
When Dr. Quinn’s wife decided to take a job in Austin, Texas, he started asking friends in the area about work opportunities. That’s when a representative from Weatherby Healthcare called him unexpectedly and asked if he had ever considered working locum tenens.
“I hadn’t, so we started talking,” recalls Dr. Quinn. “It was the perfect moment in time where I knew I was making this transition.”
He felt unsure at first. But then the upside of the opportunity settled in. He could manage his time. He could choose where and when he worked. He could provide care to underserved communities. He was now able to carve out time to visit his college-aged kids in South Carolina, celebrate his dad’s 80th birthday in California, spend the weekend with his wife in New York City, or even visit Greece for a couple of weeks.
“Before I started working locum tenens, there was absolutely zero probability of me taking a couple of weeks off for a vacation. Zero,” he explained. Scheduling time off was a careful balance for him and his pulmonology practice colleagues, where the critical care physicians all routinely worked holidays and weekends. “There’s a wear and tear to that pace that you don’t really recognize at the time.”
Choosing his assignments
After making the transition to locum tenens practice, Dr. Quinn quickly learned opportunities were plentiful for critical care pulmonologists.
“It never really entered my mind just how much demand there is,” he said. “There’s definite need for pulmonary critical care physicians. There are not enough people doing this.”
The high demand means his Weatherby representative has plenty of work opportunities to connect him to.
“He knows me,” explained Dr. Quinn. “He knows what I can do, so I give him free reign to find something I’ll be a good fit for.”
For Dr. Quinn, a good location is easy to get to. For example, he likes two locations near the Atlanta airport because he can fly directly to Atlanta from his homebase airport and avoid the hassle of connecting flights.
Staying within the same healthcare network is important to Dr. Quinn. “What’s nice about that,” he explains, “is that I don’t have to learn another system. They know me; I know them. They like having me come back, and I’m fortunate enough that my next year is already booked out.”
Building a sustainable locums practice
Dr. Quinn acknowledges that it is challenging to learn a new system and integrate into new institutional cultures but explains that the medicine is the same anywhere you go. He is successful, in part, because he does not attempt to change the institution.
“You learn there are a lot of good doctors out there, a lot of good people, a lot of well-run hospitals,” he said. “You’re not there to be the hotshot coming into town to teach everyone how to do things right. There’s more than one way to take care of the same problem.”
With that perspective, Dr. Quinn can focus on his work. “You go, you’re pleasant, you do your job, and when it is over, you’re done,” he says. In contrast, he was never completely able to step away from work in his traditional practice, even when on vacation. “You’ve got to tie off loose ends, otherwise when you come back there’s a pile a mile high to dig out of. I don’t worry about that anymore.”
The pandemic storm before and during the transition
Dr. Quinn’s last months in his traditional full-time practice were marked by a pandemic work surge. His hospital added 50% more beds to accommodate COVID-19 patients. By his last weekend on the job in May 2020, he was rounding on 50 people a day.
“It was kind of a beat down,” he remembers, but the high patient load was the only way to ensure that he and his colleagues could get some time off.
When he transitioned to locum tenens, he continued to serve large populations of COVID-19 patients. “I offered to go to really underserved areas,” he says. “I went to El Paso for a little bit just because they were overwhelmed.” He remembers having 80 patients at one facility and “scores more teetering all over the place, so you’re just running around trying to put out fires.” That, he said, was a challenge.
A locum tenens practitioner for life
Dr. Quinn describes his time as a locum tenens, and working with Weatherby, as wonderful. In fact, when Dr. Quinn reaches retirement, he doesn’t see himself stepping away from what he calls a great opportunity entirely. “I know myself too well,” he says. He may slow his pace or focus more on outpatient practice. But leaving pulmonary practice altogether? “I need a little adult daycare from day to day. I need something to do.”