It happens too often. You’ve been offered what you hope will be a great position at a great facility, only to find out it isn’t everything you wanted it to be. Maybe the work environment is toxic, or the work load is higher than you expected. You may feel stuck with a non-compete clause in your contract that makes it difficult to leave.
Scenarios like this leave many physicians in positions they’re unhappy with or hesitant to take a new one. Fortunately, an option exists that allows doctors to “test drive” healthcare facilities to find the ideal physician job: locum tenens.
Motivated by burnout
Thousands of physicians across the country have transitioned into jobs they love and found success through locums work. General surgeon Dr. Demetri Poulis is one of them.
In 2003, Dr. Poulis started a new job working alongside another surgeon. Within a few years, that surgeon left, leaving Dr. Poulis on call for up to 15 hours a day. He didn’t go on vacation, and he didn’t see his kids for two years.
“For the last five years, I was the only guy there — summer, winter, it didn’t matter — every day taking call,” Dr. Poulis said. “In about 2014, even my ex-wife said, ‘They’re going to kill you. You can’t keep doing this.’ She was right.”
Seeing how it’s done elsewhere
Dr. Poulis began looking for alternative career options, which led him to locums. Locums gave Dr. Poulis the opportunity to travel across the country and work at a variety of hospitals without committing to anything long term.
“It let me see how it was done elsewhere, how other people handled things,” Dr. Poulis said. “I had more confidence in myself, especially after being burned out after that many years of being on call alone.”
Dr. Poulis’ locums work took him to an Adventist hospital. He was offered a contracted position three months into the job. Though he enjoyed his work, he didn’t immediately take the position — he waited for about three years.
“I really wanted to see how it was going to work out now with them having a couple of surgeons and how I was going to fit in,” Dr. Poulis said.
Setting your own terms
When Dr. Poulis finally accepted the job, he basically made his own terms.
“I told them how much I wanted, how much time I wanted. I said, ‘I want to run the wound center, I want to take call for general surgery, and I want to be home ten days a month.’ And they said OK.”
Dr. Poulis credits the ease of making his own terms to the relationships he’d developed through locums.
“I wasn’t an unknown to them; they knew what I could produce, they knew how I was in the hospital,” Dr. Poulis said.
He added that his transition from working locums to full-time was “seamless” and ultimately put him in a place he wanted to be.
“I hadn’t been this happy in ten years,” Dr. Poulis said. “I sort of knew from that that this was probably a decent place to go.”
Leaving private practice
Dr. Steven Berman is another physician who’s learned firsthand the benefits of locum tenens. Berman is a general surgeon who has worked in the medical field for 35 years. He stumbled into locums almost by accident after having surgery done on his shoulder. Complications left him out of work for six months, and during that time, he was being recruited by various locum tenens organizations. Disenchanted by private practice, he decided to pursue locums when he went back to work.
“I took a couple of weeks’ vacation to do the locums, and when I realized that I could enjoy that, I gave my notice that I was going to leave private practice,” Dr. Berman said.
An ideal physician job
Dr. Berman has been doing locums on and off for the past six years. One job took him to North Carolina for six months, where he traveled twice a month for a week at a time.
got to know the community, and the hospital got to know me, and really, one
thing led to another,” Dr. Berman said. “They were looking for someone to do
what I was doing, and I was enjoying working at that hospital and in that
Berman was offered the opportunity to work as a full-time employee at the hospital rather than an independent contractor. He accepted. He later returned to locums when the hospital closed, but he says that his locums work prepared him for that position, and it was the right place for him at that time.
“I knew what I was getting into, I knew the community, I knew the hospital, I knew the politics of the hospital, so it was certainly much easier to take a job knowing fully what that job was before committing,” he said.
Locum tenens for mid-career transitions
Dr. Berman said he feels locum tenens work is an especially good option for physicians further along in their career. It allows them to get back to their roots and do what they love, and it’s a good option for anyone experiencing the transitional stage between employment and retirement.
He has this advice for physicians who are considering locums work: “If you’re going to be working a position in locums or going from locums to permanent, think about yourself first — you’ve got to put your interests above the interests of the community and certainly the hospital.”