Nicholas Kusnezov, MD, shares his travel tips for locum tenens physicians based on what he’s learned in his years of traveling for locums assignments.
When I wrote my first article on travel tips for locum physicians, it was before the start of the pandemic. A great deal has changed since then. But even with the undulating threat of COVID, which waxed and waned over the past two years, I have seamlessly continued with locum assignments. In fact, my experience only cemented some of my previous recommendations. I also have gained some new insights on travel that can make your life as a traveling physician easier.
1. Driving is STILL the optimal mode of travel (in most cases)
While flights are more predictable these days than they were at the peak of COVID, there are nevertheless reverberations resulting from the staffing shortages which continue to disrupt airline infrastructure.
As a result, driving remains the most time-efficient and reliable means of travel for most local assignments. Driving ultimately gives you complete control of your time and avoids inefficiencies which develop from third parties — such as flight delays or issues with rental cars.
Having worked all over the country over the past few years, I stand by a “six-hour rule”, which means your time is better optimized by driving up to six hours than flying to an assignment within that same radius. That said, gas prices have recently skyrocketed to an all-time high. However, given that the locums agency will reimburse for gas, this adds to the benefit of working through a locums agency over contracting directly with hospitals. Hospitals generally limit reimbursements for travel, which could leave you holding an increasingly sizeable gas bill.
2. Anticipate holiday chaos
I always anticipate an increasingly chaotic holiday schedule, with overbooked hotels, fewer potential options for places to stay, and longer wait times for such ancillary services as rental cars. Budget for the extra time, and make sure to do your due diligence in selecting appropriate travel plans. Whether it’s rentals, flights, or lodging, plan well ahead of time to avoid bottlenecks when these are ultimately overbooked or sold out.
I have found that hours of operation, and even days of operation, have dwindled as a result of severe staffing shortages. This may not be reflected on the travel services’ websites, so I make it a habit of calling ahead to verify times and availability. In short, plan ahead and give yourself ample time.
3. Keep in close contact with your locum agent
The workforce exodus has not spared locum companies. As a result, I would strongly recommend keeping in frequent contact with your locum agent.
There is a large amount of flux within the job market right now, resulting in significant turnover, even within locum companies themselves. As a result, I have found myself reassigned representatives — and even travel liaisons — sometimes multiple times during the course of a single assignment.
If you do not anticipate this, you may find that you have been in contact with someone who no longer works for the company, which could result in dropped communication for travel and/or reimbursement. That said, the locum companies’ customer service has remained unparalleled, as they have anticipated this and maintained open lines and robust after-hours emergency contacts for last-minute changes in travel plans.
4. Pack smart
Lastly, get organized early. Often, we are leaving from one job straight to a locum assignment. I have become accustomed to having a “go bag “which contains all the essentials, including electronics, chargers (both car and bedside), toiletries, basic clothing, workout gear, and respective badges and pagers. Colleagues have recommended packing lists to a similar end. This simplifies the transition and avoids forgetting essentials.
Additionally, you may find that you have much more downtime than you would at your primary job but without the comforts of your own home. I would certainly recommend accounting for this, both during travel as well as while at the hotel. This may involve rounding up work, books, or even sporting gear for your trip. Driving is an excellent opportunity to catch up on business calls, organizational activities, and podcasts.
What travel advice do you have for other locums? Share your tips in the comments below.