Many physicians turn to locum tenens for the extra money, the chance to visit new places, and its unmatched flexibility, but it can allow you to expand your practice as well. Working as a locum can provide you with the opportunity to perform a broader spectrum of clinical procedures in a variety of clinical environments. Here’s how two physicians used locum tenens to challenge themselves and keep their clinical skills sharp.
Wanting to do more
Dr. Alison Miller, a pediatric critical care physician, works locum tenens on the side to supplement her full-time job at a pediatric critical care unit in the pacific northwest. Her first job out of fellowship had been at a large children’s hospital, and she found herself missing the buzz of shifts with so many patients needing serious care.
“The clinical change was pretty significant,” she says. “I went from a really busy ICU to a much smaller one with less acuity, and also fewer patients and fewer opportunities to do procedures and the high level of care that I was used to.”
Because she was still fresh out of training, Dr. Miller also felt the pull to continue learning. “I didn’t want to lose any of my clinical skills,” she says. “I thought I should probably try to supplement my current job with a little extra clinical experience.”
When she proposed working locum tenens on the side, Dr. Miller’s employer encouraged the move.
“There were not only ok with it, they supported it,” she says. “It’s a benefit to them to have me as a more skilled physician.”
She made locums a priority and started working assignments on her days off. Although her life is a busy one, Dr Miller says the benefits of working locum tenens have far outweighed her initial doubts about taking on too much.
“It’s exactly what I wanted it to be in the sense that it offered me more of that clinical acuity and also just a busier patient care service,” she recalls of her first assignment. “My fear was that it was going to be a really stressful experience. I’ve always known the benefit of training in multiple places and seeing different units. Learning how different people approach the same type of diagnosis or therapy — I think it helps to bring those things back to the place that you work full-time.”
Taking a step back
Dr. Demetri Poulis is a general surgeon. For 11 years, he was the only surgeon living in the Outer Banks, a popular vacation spot in North Carolina, and the seasonal windfall of patients started to wear on him.
“In the winter, there are 30,000 people in the county,” says Dr. Poulis. “In the summer, there are 450,000. Being the only guy on call for that every year was just a lot. That’s when I thought about locums.”
He started considering locums when he convincing the hospital he worked at to hire one to help him out. Eventually, he reached out to explore his options and connected with a Weatherby consultant who sealed the deal.
“I trusted her from the beginning,” he says of his consultant, Hopal Watson. “She helped me get through things I wasn’t sure about. She’s always given me good advice. You always worry about going to new places and what you’re going to find and so forth, but she always prepared me well.”
Different ways of doing things
Dr. Poulis did locum tenens full-time for three years — only working three weeks per month. Having more control over his schedule helped him to achieve a better balance, both in his personal life and as a physician. He also found that it helped him improve as a physician and strengthen his clinical skills.
“Going to other places, you see different points of view,” says Dr. Poulis. “It’s made me a better surgeon. Plus, being in one place you become lethargic. You have this momentum that you don’t change anything and then work gets boring. It’s like going to the office every day. There’s nothing to look forward to. Locums made it exciting again.”
Dr. Poulis has since returned to full-time employment — one of his assignments took him to a hospital he loved so much, he decided to stay. But he still values the time he spent as a locum.
“As you go to new places you learn different ways of doing things,” he says. “When you’re in one place for a long time — especially when you’re alone — you have no one to confer with, no one to hash over stuff with. Going to other places, you meet people and you see different points of view. Things you were afraid to do alone now you can try because there’s other people there that can help you. I think for medicine, the one thing that real physicians are committed to is lifelong learning.”