Whether you’re a new physician or close to retirement, working as a locum tenens hospitalist can be a great way to take control of your schedule and earn the income you want — all while learning new ways of practicing medicine and seeing the country. We talked with two locums hospitalists to get their advice on how to be more successful as a locum tenens hospitalist.
1. Go where the jobs are
Dr. Matthew Dothager has been working as a locum tenens hospitalist for the past three years, and he says he usually ends up working in more rural, underserved areas. “We have plenty of those across the country, and traditionally that’s where locums will end up,” he says. When the pandemic first hit, he was working an assignment in a small town in Kansas, a state that has continued to need locums to care for COVID patients.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big factor in driving demand for hospitalists. The higher acuity of COVID-19 patients and longer hospitalizations has increased the need for hospitalists to care for them. Hot spots for locum tenens hospitalist jobs have included California, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, and states across the Midwest.
2. Be flexible
Being flexible as a locums is important for several reasons — not only will you have a greater number of locations to choose from, but you’ll be able to earn what you want and have more control over your environment as well.
Dr. Hien Dao has been working as a locums hospitalist for the past year, but he has been a practicing physician for 20 years, both in hospitals and in private practice. “To me, it doesn’t matter where I go, it just matters if the environment is good,” he says.
That flexibility has allowed him to work in a variety of locations. “I’m one who likes to work at the same location, but it’s nice once in a while to see a different location. Some places are super difficult and you can see 30 patients, and some places you see five or six. It’s good to take a break from a busier place and go to an easier place. You can relax, and it gives you the energy to go back and work at the hard places,” he says.
3. Be curious about new ways of doing things
Both hospitalists have appreciated the chance to learn new things thanks to their locums assignments.
“If you’re in the same place and you’re doing the same routine, sometimes going to a different place you see how things are done differently,” says Dr. Dao. “It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s a whole different environment here. How come that was a problem there but not a problem here?’”
Dr. Dothager agrees that having exposure to several different hospital systems has been rewarding, both personally and professionally.
“If you’re just in one area, you’ve got the same people and you’re all bouncing the same ideas off of each other,” he says. “If you’re going to different hospital systems across different states, you’re getting a lot more points of view and a lot of other resources and information to be able to grow and stay on top of things.”
Dr. Dothager also appreciates having the chance to learn from other physicians he meets during his assignments. “The relationships you make is a big benefit of the job. You run into a lot of different specialists or other hospitalists who have had years, sometimes decades, of experience, and you’re able to learn from them how to practice medicine, how to study and stay up on the latest research and information coming out.”
4. Balance your earnings with other benefits
Unlike a permanent position that comes with a set paycheck every month, working locums allows you to balance pay with how much you work. Whether you want to work a lot to pay down student debt or you prefer fewer shifts to make time for life outside of work, how much you earn depends on your individual needs and preference.
“As a locum you don’t really have any expenses, it’s all paid for by the company,” says Dr. Dao, who now works fewer hours but earns more. As a physician who used to work in private practice, he also appreciates not having the added stress of figuring out how to pay his employees.
Dr. Dothager says locums allows people to focus on what’s most important to them, whether that’s pay, location, or time off. “Some people find a great balance of ‘I’m where I want to be, making what I want to make.’ Sometimes you have to be more flexible and say, ‘Not necessarily where I want to practice, but I’ve got a certain amount that I want to make and I’m willing to go anywhere to do that.’”
5. Take some time off
Burnout was a common problem among hospitalists even before to the pandemic, but treating COVID patients has increased the stress many providers are feeling.
Working locums allows physicians to decide on their own work/life balance, and in turn, reduce the likelihood of feeling burned out. “I have so much freedom,” says Dr. Dao. “Before I was never able to take a holiday off, but now, even if you work a holiday you get paid extra, and with locums you get to choose which holidays you want to work.”
Dr. Dao appreciates being able to mix up his patient load, try out different locations, and take breaks in between assignments to recharge. “It’s a much better work/life balance than the office,” he says.
Dr. Dothager takes advantage of his flexible schedule to travel and see new places. He’s visited every U.S. state and over 50 national parks in between assignments, as well as taken extended trips to Alaska, Russia, and Eastern Europe. “Doing locums has definitely afforded me the opportunity to travel and go do things I wouldn’t normally be able to do,” he says. “With locums you sign up for the shifts you want and if you don’t want to work, you have no obligation to take the shifts.”
Finding the perfect balance
Working as a locum tenens hospitalist can be the right fit for just about anybody. “You can make it what you want it to be as far as lifestyle and the amount you’re working,” says Dr. Dothager. “If you want to be more rural, urban, suburban, there’s a lot of different opportunities.”
If you’re willing to be flexible and open to new ways of practicing medicine, working as a locum tenens hospitalist might just be the perfect career for you.