From pay to schedule flexibility to new clinical experiences, locum tenens offers physicians interesting professional opportunities that may not be easily accessible in a permanent position. However, the career alternative presents couples and families with less-traditional choices about how to fit short-term contracts into their personal lives. For example, does being married to a locums physician add more stress to family life, or does it provide a reprieve from the daily rigors of balancing a practice with personal relationships?
The answer is that locum tenens offers couples and families a variety of options. Keep reading to learn how four doctors and their spouses found a way for locum tenens to benefit their marriages and families.
The Flagels travel as a family
After years of working with a private practice group, Dr. Jeremy Flagel self-diagnosed the onset of physician burnout, attributing the condition to exorbitant hours and paperwork. Tired of the situation, the psychiatrist began researching ways to halt further burnout both at work and home.
“We started exploring locums because it was a way of escaping and figuring out what we wanted the next chapter to be,” he recalls.
In 2014, when his sons were ages one and three, Dr. Flagel began accepting locum tenens assignments full-time. He and his wife, Heather, agreed the career alternative offered their family unprecedented access to communities they probably never would have considered visiting, much less living in full-time. It also empowered Dr. Flagel to take control over his hours.
“We transitioned from him being in a very busy, intense practice to working locums and suddenly having a lot more time as a family. That was really, really lovely,” says Heather. “Locums was very low stress, which carried over to the whole family life.”
To meet their family’s changing needs as the boys grew into school-age, the Flagels strategically selected longer assignments to coincide with the academic calendar. It also meant their oldest son attended three different schools in three states in as many years.
“He’s a bright, social kid who’s been able to adapt to new situations,” notes Dr. Flagel.
More recently, the family opted to set up a permanent home in southern California where Dr. Flagel is establishing a new practice. To supplement income, he continues to accept occasional temporary contracts, but Heather and the boys stay home…most of the time.
“Last summer he was on assignment in Oregon, and we were able to tag along for a family vacation,” she says.
The Mangiones sail through assignments
Inspired by the story of a young lady sailing solo around the world, Dr. Robin Mangione and her husband, Michael, added sailing around North America to their bucket list. Instead of waiting until retirement to make their dream come true, the family practice physician signed up for locum tenens.
“Since I’ve been working with Weatherby Healthcare, we’ve logged more than 5,000 miles on the sailboat, all at seven miles an hour,” she says.
In addition to satisfying a wish-list item, the lifestyle has created more time for the couple to spend together, an objective that previously proved elusive.
“We’re best friends, so we want to hang out with each other,” says Michael, who retired from a healthcare career before setting sail. “When I was working in a hospital and she was working in a hospital full-time, we could be like two ships that passed in the night. She’d be gone for long periods of time even though we were in the same town.”
Thanks to locum tenens, the Mangiones now spend more time together, even though it may not be on a daily basis. If a contract is near the marina, Dr. Mangione returns to the boat after each shift, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes she’ll take a position requiring additional travel. In those cases, she’ll return for long weekends, or Michael may join her so he can sightsee and explore a location. And, of course, there are breaks between contracts.
“There are weeks when I’m not doing anything but hanging out with my husband. We’ll move the boat during those times or go see some other places. It’s still some separation, but we get to pick and choose it,” she says.
The Fryes finally find together time
In more than 30 years as an obstetrician/gynecologist, Dr. Jeffrey Frye, served a variety of communities, from an Army base in Germany, to a solo practice in a rural town, to a large healthcare organization. What each position had in common was a hefty demand on his time, including superseding family activities.
“With the children, he missed so many things that were important, but it’s the way it is. Patients take precedent over everything,” comments his wife, Nancy.
Now that Dr. Frye is easing into semi-retirement with locum tenens, they’re both looking forward to having a more flexible schedule that will guarantee the couple, married 42 years, more time together.
In terms of choosing which assignments best match his skills and objectives, Dr. Frye gives the biggest input on clinical criteria, but Nancy has a say too. For example, when she discovered a possibility for him to be assigned to Hawaii, her response was definitive because it meant a chance to visit their son and his family, stationed on Oahu.
“The minute he said ‘Kona,’ I said, ‘Let’s take it,’” recalls Nancy. “We would be about a 30-minute flight from them and our two little granddaughters opposed to a 10-hour flight.”
Drs. Shah and Gehlot living the debt-free life
As a physician couple who met during their medical school interview, Dr. Hevil Shah, a pediatrician/neonatologist, and Dr. Ashita Gehlot, an OB/GYN, had each incurred medical school debt. Paying off one student loan is onerous. But as a married couple, they had twice the burden. Fortunately, Dr. Gehlot discovered locum tenens early in her career. And, she says, by the two of them living frugally and with the supplemental income from locum assignments, they were able to reach their goal of being debt free.
“I worked locums for 18 months, and we were able to save enough money, write a big check, and pay off our student loans,” Dr. Shah says.
Dr. Hevil shares that they had another trick for paying off their student loans quickly. “If you still live like residents even after you’ve got your nice job for a few years, then hit the loans hard, it’s going to be smooth sailing. Then you can do what you want.”
They’ve since found their permanent dream jobs, but look back fondly on how locum tenens gave them a leg up on their finances. Now they’re able to enjoy more quality time with each other.
“We love having dinner together to unwind, and love going to fairs, food trucks, and pop-up shops,” says Dr. Shah. “We travel a few times a year and give ourselves a few weeks to explore the entire city. It’s how we take a break and avoid burnout.”
Of course, what works for one couple or family may not fit another, but with the locum tenens lifestyle, you’re not bound to long-term contracts. Decisions of whether loved ones join the doctor on assignment, stay home and video chat, or find a different solution can be based on what will benefit your marriage and family most.