For decades, working Americans have been in pursuit of the ultimate work/life balance, an equilibrium between professional demands and personal responsibilities and desires. Unfortunately, that perfect balance remains elusive all too often, especially for practicing physicians.
According to the American Medical Association, the majority of full-time physicians log between 40 and 60 hours each week on average. Approximately one-fourth of doctors work between 61 and 80 hours each week. When so much time is committed to the job, finding a work/life balance is challenging at best. In fact, a growing number of people are abandoning the idea of an equitable split between home and work. Rather, the goal is to add more flexibility into their careers so it’s easier to find the time to attend to personal needs and interests. Fortunately for physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, the locum tenens career alternative offers varying degrees of flexibility.
1. Schedule flexibility
Last year, Forbes magazine reported that more than one-third of millennials identified schedule flexibility as a top career priority, even greater than pay. However, physicians of all ages can appreciate the value of determining one’s schedule. As a locum tenens professional, you choose when and how often you accept temporary positions. Individuals who make locum tenens a full-time career can take off extended periods between contracts. If you only agree to occasional short-term positions, you still decide which assignments will be convenient to your schedule, and thereby preventing them from becoming just another entry in an already overburdened calendar.
2. Finding time for family
Physicians with families may hesitate to accept short-term opportunities because it means being away from home for a few days or weeks at a time. But when you add up the minutes spent in traffic commuting to a permanent job every morning and evening, along with the hours consumed by each shift and the nights and weekends on call, you already spend large chunks of every day away from home. The locum tenens distinction is that when you’re between contracts, there’s no commute, overtime, or call. That flexibility carves out more room to turn your undivided attention to family, friends, and personal interests.
WATCH: General Surgeon, Dr. Joan Pellegrini, shares how locum tenens allowed her to take charge of her career and have more time for her family.
3. Control over career decisions
Locum tenens opportunities enable healthcare providers to exert authority over their career decisions instead of being bound by the constraints of a long-term employment contract. Before signing on the dotted line for their first permanent position, residents can use short-term jobs to gather data about various practice settings and communities to determine where they will be most comfortable practicing for years to come.
Physicians at the other end of the career spectrum can use locum tenens opportunities to ease into retirement – that transition doesn’t have to be an abrupt switch from working more than 40 hours a week to not working at all. Temporary assignments allow you to wind down the number of hours on the job, while providing assistance to facilities and patients who can benefit from your experience.
4. Expand earnings
Who wouldn’t welcome the chance to expand earnings so you can get ahead on student loans, increase retirement savings, or pay off unexpected expenses? Locum tenens offers the chance to supplement your salary. Not only do assignments mean extra income, but they oftentimes pay higher hourly rates than staff positions. In fact, facilities that need someone immediately typically offer even higher pay rates to compensate for the short notice. That can be quite profitable if you’re willing and able to answer an urgent request.
5. Varying patient populations
One way to add flexibility into your practice is to treat various patient populations. Immersing yourself in different cultural settings show how beliefs and attitudes affect patient care and compliance. Also, assignments in underserved communities give doctors a chance to assist patients who have limited access to certain specialties. Although you’ll likely be carrying out familiar tasks and procedures, the change of people and places could be enough to refresh your perspective and keep burnout at bay.