The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on healthcare, one of which was physicians reporting the decline in their income directly correlated with the pandemic. And according to a recent CHG Healthcare survey, nearly 50% of physicians have changed jobs, left medicine or retired altogether, or changed to a nonclinical career since the onset of the pandemic. The top two reasons: a lack of work/life balance and a decrease in income.
One way many physicians are addressing these challenges is by working locums tenens. Locums assignments typically pay more than a full-time, permanent position — as much as 50% more per hour — while allowing you the schedule flexibility to work less and achieve a better physician work/life balance.
We interviewed three Weatherby Healthcare physicians about why they turned to locum tenens and how it’s made a difference in their quality of life.
Less stress and better physician work/life balance
Dr. William Gruss, a hospitalist, started full-time locums in April of 2012. He made the switch to locums to increase his compensation and lower his stress. This was after having built up a practice with a business partner in the late ‘80s and later selling it.
“In the beginning, it was pretty good,” he says about the practice. “We were doing our care and getting busier and busier. It seemed like things were okay.”
Then, says Dr. Gruss, the economics of the healthcare system began changing in the mid-‘90s. “It became more and more challenging,” he explains. Eventually, he sold his practice to a hospital and worked for the hospital’s practice.
For a while, it worked out, but at some point, Dr. Gruss felt like he was spending too much time on electronic health records while also scrambling to meet patient quotas. “Here I am putting stuff into the computer very comprehensively and trying to do little shortcuts to make it move a little faster,” he remembers, “but, even then, by the time you’re ready to see the patient, you’re exhausted.”
A few years later, when the hospital wanted to cut his salary, he went locums full time. He values locums as a way to make a good living while providing better physician work/life balance. For instance, Dr. Gruss says he may be away from his family for a week or 10 days while on assignment, but when he comes home, he gets to spend quality time with his family. He describes his pre-locums days, “When I came home and I was scrambling, I was like an ogre,” he says. “That’s just not me. I was in a depression with all that stress.”
Schedule flexibility and other perks
With locums, Dr. Gruss enjoys being able to create his own schedule and decide when he wants to work and when he doesn’t. “Plus, you get to travel,” he adds. “Wherever I’ve been, the accommodations have always been very nice. They give you a rental car, so that’s money that you’re not spending on your car, and they reimburse the gas.”
Dr. Gruss points out that one drawback of being an independent contractor is that he has to take care of his own benefits, like health insurance. “But that’s fine. You’re also making a much higher salary than you would normally under a contract.”
That said, he doesn’t see paying his own taxes (which independent contractors must do) as a drawback, as he can write off business expenses. “There are certain benefits to doing things that way,” he explains.
RELATED: Keeping more of what you earn as a locum tenens physician
All in all, he says, switching to locums has allowed him to lower his stress, work less, make more money, and spend more time treating patients and less time on paperwork.
Craft your own schedule for better work/life balance
Emergency medicine physician Dr. Ali Chaudhary says despite landing a prestigious position in one of the busiest surgery centers in the U.S., he felt the weight of his student debt and began working locum tenens to supplement his income.
“I was getting paid more with locum tenens work than I was at my full-time job,” he says. “I could work the same amount and make a lot more money. Staying at my full-time job didn’t make any sense from a financial standpoint.”
Not only that, Dr. Chaudhary had complete control over his own schedule. “Having full flexibility and control over my schedule, I could take a vacation whenever I wanted without having to request time off. I had the ability to create my own life and my own schedule. This has allowed me to pursue other passions like starting my own company, starting my own blog, traveling more, spending more time at home with my family.”
And he has no intention of returning to a full-time permanent position anytime soon. “There’s no way I’d go back to conforming to what other people want me to do which is what an employee is kind of stuck with. This has been like a revelation for me. I realized that I can create my own path and lifestyle that I want.”
A revitalized career
Dr. Albert Belardi has been an anesthesiologist for more than 30 years. He began thinking about locums after numerous operational changes in the hospitals where he worked stressed him out to the point that he decided to retire at 62. He quickly found that he was bored and so began pursuing locums positions so he could simply focus on doing his job without the politics.
“Locums has revitalized my career,” he says. “I look forward to coming to work. It’s a reasonable position, the people are great, and the workload is good.”
Another benefit: He makes more per hour with locums than he would in a full-time, permanent position. “One of my former partners is offering $1,500 for a 24-hour anesthesiologist shift, which is $100 less than I make for an eight-hour shift,” Dr. Belardi explains. “He doesn’t pay overtime; here, I get overtime.”
The better pay means that Dr. Belardi can work less while making as much (or more) money. “When I was in private practice, I was working 70 – 80 hours a week, three weeks out of the month because we would concentrate our call density — our seven nights of call into a three-week period,” he explains. “Here I have no call, no weekend responsibility, no holiday responsibility.”
He admits that the quarterly taxes you have to pay as an independent contractor can be a challenge, but it’s worth the trouble. “I’ll make the sacrifice because I’m enjoying myself.”
All in all, Dr. Belardi is incredibly happy he made the switch and got out of a situation where he dreaded going to work. And working with a good locum tenens agency has made the switch to locums easy.
“Weatherby takes care of everything for me. I get what I need, and it’s wonderful working with Weatherby.”
We can help you find the physician work/life balance you’re looking for. Give us a call at 954.343.3050 or view today’s locum tenens job openings.