As far as I can remember, I do not recall any one person telling me about locum tenens, but it was the sixth month of my second year of family practice residency training when I first heard about it. All of my colleagues were either contemplating staying in Connecticut (where I trained) or working for our local hospital. Personally, working for a hospital system or starting my own practice was neither attractive nor did either resonate with me at the time. In addition, having grown up in New Jersey, I was grateful to experience all four seasons, but I knew I could not continue to live in frigid winter areas anymore. Therefore, I did not know where to go to first. One of my professors, before starting her own practice in NYC, had done locums for about two years in eastern Pennsylvania. Until then, I had never heard of locum tenens and the possibilities of that type of job. At first I thought to myself, “Is this a real job?” She shared her experience with me and the conversation opened up my eyes.
Now, after three years of working as a family practice locums, I have had the chance to practice in four different states. This included time in Nevada, where I worked with a Native American population at a tribal-run outpatient clinic; a Veterans Affairs system in Louisiana; a county health department in Santa Cruz, California, that runs its own homeless shelter; and a community health clinic with a diverse refugee population in Seattle, Washington. Personally, I have also had the opportunity to travel to all seven continents and write about my experiences in my first book. All this since I graduated residency.
Whether you are a seasoned physician in the middle of your career or a soon-to-be graduate, questions you can ask yourself are, “How do I want to spend my professional time?” or “What is the best use of my time to make an impact as a physician?” or “Do I have a good work/life balance currently?”
Remember that I said I did not know where to go first? Locum tenens allows you to take back the reins of your professional career and dictate where you want to practice and how you want to practice medicine. It also allows you to rediscover yourself as a physician, meaning you determine which direction you want your professional career to go. It is not necessary to stay in one spot, unless you choose to. That is the beauty of locums: it provides you flexibility and empowerment.
Locums has also allowed me to give back to myself. Self-care was not something that was taught in medical school. Neither was there time to care for yourself in medical school or residency training. If you are not careful, that can easily transfer over to your professional career. For example, physicians’ days are often dictated by how many patients they need to see per hour, per day, or per month. In addition, they have required on-call patients to see and hospital admissions they need to make. This could easily translate to a work-life imbalance that can lead to higher stress, job dissatisfaction, and strained interpersonal relationships.
Locums allowed me to have a better control of my schedule for things I am passionate about, such as cooking, scuba diving, and traveling. From my experience, I have found that the better I take care of myself and have a good balance of work and my own personal endeavors, the better physician I am for my patients. This is paramount for me since I believe in providing great quality of care for people. The work of a physician is reflective of the internal state of the physician, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I believe locums is the best conduit for that.