Locum tenens has become a desirable career option for gastroenterologists, and for good reason. With the U.S. experiencing a shortage of gastroenterologists, GI physicians — especially those who’ve retired or are near retirement — can help fill the gap through locums assignments. This demand means locums positions offer great pay and allow you to enjoy a work/life balance seldom experienced by hospital staff physicians or those in private practice.
An overlooked alternative
Locum tenens often flies under physicians’ radar, but more and more physicians are turning to it as a desirable career alternative.
“I knew locums was there for a long time, but I never took a good look at it,” says Dr. Robert Brenner. “It’s one of those things that I kind of wish I had done five years ago when I left my practice.” He closed his 26-year San Diego practice for a position with a hospital only to decide it wasn’t what he was looking for.
“I decided to go on the road to do locums,” he says. “That way I could consolidate as much work as I could into a 20-day span, then I could be home for about ten days a month. My priority is to make as much as I can in as short a time as possible and still have time to go home and be with my family.”
Keeping your skills fresh
Freshly retired Dr. Duane Webb had just finished a three-month sailing trip to Alaska when he decided the retirement gig wasn’t for him. “I got a little restless and felt I needed to get back in the workplace, not wanting to lose my skills.”
So he was pleased to discover how well facilities, like Skagit Regional Health in Washington, accommodated locums physicians.
“They have about four locums in addition to two full-time GIs,” he explains, so their onboarding for locums was “positive from the very beginning. They were very welcoming, with a great orientation. I learned the system they were using, and they gradually built up my workload as I became adjusted to their own computer billing with Epic. It really was a positive experience.”
Finding the right work/life balance
The flexibility and work/life balance offered by locums was a breath of fresh air to both physicians. Dr. Webb works two weeks per month, and Dr. Brenner 20 days per month, giving both ample time to devote to family and their personal lives.
“It’s given me about one-third of my time off,” Dr. Brenner says. “When I’m home, I’m free, and I’m getting a lot of things done. My wife’s happy to see me as we still manage to maintain our closeness.” She definitely doesn’t mind being greeted daily with a glass of wine as she pulls in from her transplant nurse job.
Dr. Brenner is an avid cyclist as well, so he makes the most of his off time while on assignment by jumping on his bike and doing 50 miles at a clip. “Riding is my therapy. It’s just good to get out, put some miles on, and enjoy the countryside.”
Taking center stage for Dr. Webb is his love of amateur photography, “gentleman farming” on his ten-acre spread, and building nature trails for his children and grandchildren to enjoy. “With the weeks I have off, it’s a lot of fun.”
Dr. Webb likes to use his free time while on assignment to be a tourist with his wife, who frequently goes on the road with him. “We explore the nautical areas — the coasts, marinas, and marina towns. Recently there was a tulip festival we were able to drive past and appreciate the acres and acres of tulips in full bloom.”
COVID-19 and the adaptability of locums
Undeniably, COVID-19 has affected every area of medicine with gastroenterology locums being no exception. And yet adapting is what locum providers are all about and do so well.
Dr. Webb has gotten used to the new normal — wearing a N95 mask, a paper mask over that, and a full-face shield on top. With recovery areas off-limits to visitors, family conferences no longer happen, and patients are simply sent home with instructions. Video conferencing accounts for three-quarters of office work. With so much GI being elective, he’s bracing for a flood of GI cases when restrictions are fully lifted.
Dr. Brenner benefited from the adaptability of the hospital where he was working. “I was very fortunate being in the right place at the right time working with the right people. What they did was shift me over into straight hospital coverage. I’m doing all the inpatient for the hospital instead of two-thirds outpatient and one-third inpatient. They’ve kept me fully employed. They have been sensitive to my needs which has been a huge plus.”
Why GI physicians should consider locum tenens
Dr. Brenner recommends locums to the other GIs he encounters. “It’s a great way to make a good income, however much time they choose to allot to it. As long as I’m healthy, I see the potential to doing something like this indefinitely.”
Dr. Webb agrees, but adds his “3 A’s” to any conversation on locums: available, affable, and able. “These are the three characteristics of a good locums. People immediately assess whether you are a good fit or not, and you have to make them feel that you are.”