Sandeep K. Aggarwal, MD, shares the story of his medical career and the path that led him to choose full-time locum tenens over permanent employment.
During my years in private practice and ultimately as an employed physician, I would every now and then think about the current state of healthcare, my future in this transformed industry, and how I could reinvent myself.
A sense of dissatisfaction
I had always stayed affiliated with one hospital over the years and saw the changes in healthcare go from full autonomy to near complete dependence on managers and regulations. I certainly felt that I was helping my patients, but I found that I had wanted to make an impact in areas where there were shortages of neurologists. I had worked in large urban centers over the span of my career. There was always talk about global health and while important, I felt that our own backyard was also in great need of service. I looked into charitable and volunteer opportunities, but I didn’t think it would be the same as working on a regular basis in these communities.
Exploring my options
After great deliberation, I started looking into other options. I didn’t want to relocate as I enjoyed living in a large city. I had heard about locum tenens briefly but had never seriously explored further. I learned that there was greater flexibility and that the locum companies had already established connections with hospitals in these shortage areas. I could also test the waters rather than making a full commitment as I had never lived or worked in these communities.
While a big change and sacrifice, I thought that now was the time to take the plunge. My wife and I were empty nesters, and she was an independent career woman employed at a large healthcare system. I didn’t have to worry about health insurance as I was on her plan. I felt I could always go back to an employed position at some point closer to home once the non-compete clause of my contract expired.
Settling into locums
I was fortunate to have linked up with an experienced recruiter and through various trials, mishaps and natural capriciousness of the field, finally settled into practices in smaller towns. I have since found the experiences quite rewarding and fulfilling.
I find that I can make a difference in these areas where the patients haven’t had regular and consistent access to neurologists. I feel that if we as healthcare providers can offer our services, then the overall health of the country can improve, and patients can live healthier and more productive lives. This not only translates to better health outcomes but also economic prosperity.
The pros of the locum lifestyle
As a locum tenens provider, I have the ability to not only stay current with the literature but also expand my outside interests. I have been able to read and learn more about a variety of pursuits including foreign language, history, and literature in general. I’ve dabbled in some writing and plan to develop further.
I would say that the greatest pro of working as a locum tenens provider is offering service to underserved areas. I have met remarkable and friendly people at my assignments. Everyone has been helpful and as a group are committed to providing the best care possible to their patients.
One can also split time between facilities on a weekly or monthly basis to explore the scenic beauty, demographics, and recreational activities particular to the locale. The very nature of locums allows one to see the country in ways that are more meaningful than just spending a week or two on vacation or charitable pursuit. One can really get a sense of the people and learn their local customs.
And the cons
Cons are the travel and time away from family. With ease of travel these days (barring COVID) and technology, however, it is very easy to communicate and stay in touch. Of course, the capriciousness of this line of work poses a greater negative. There is always the specter of a facility no longer requiring your services as they have hired someone full-time or decided to switch to another locum company. I find though if the locations are selected properly where there is a great need and recruitment for permanent physicians is difficult, job security is stronger.