On the road with locums

May 10th, 2019 6 Min read On the road with locums Blog

Andrew Wilner, MD, FACP, FAAN, examines the pros and cons of the travel lifestyle.

I discovered the world of locum tenens in 1982 while still in residency training. Since then, I’ve become a board-certified internist, neurologist, and epilepsy specialist. I’ve worked both locum tenens and traditional full-time positions. My locums experiences provided the freedom to manage my time and pursue my passions. Along the way, I published four books, became a PADI dive master, and produced a couple of award-winning short underwater films. Here are a few of the things I've learned about locum tenens travel over the years.

The advantages of travel

Locum tenens assignments may be available in one’s hometown or a short drive away. In other instances, locums work necessitates a plane ride to a distant city or even a foreign country. The frequent opportunity to travel to new locations is one of the great advantages of practicing medicine as a locum tenens physician as opposed to slogging away at the same clinic or hospital year after year. Most locum tenens physicians prioritize their assignments by location, sometimes combining work with vacation travel. Such combinations can be time-efficient and economical.

Different ways of traveling

My own travel experiences with locum tenens have been quite varied. In one per diem assignment, I drove an hour and a half twice a week from my seaside condo in Newport, RI, to a busy neurology office in a neighboring city. I arranged this particular assignment directly with the employer without an agency and consequently had to pay commuting costs out of pocket. Of course, as an independent contractor, I deducted mileage costs from my income as a legitimate business expense.

For another position as a neurohospitalist, I contracted with CompHealth. I commuted by plane once a week from Newport to a modern hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. Once in town, I stayed in a nearby hotel and drove about 15 minutes to work every day in a rental car. One of the hotel’s housekeepers was willing to do my laundry, so all I had to focus on was my job. The hotel even had a pretty good gym where I could unwind in the evening.

Locum tenens assignments are not necessarily short-term. I worked for more than a year as both a clinic physician and neurohospitalist at the renowned Mayo Clinic at their Arizona location. For this long-term position, I temporarily relocated from Newport to Scottsdale, AZ. Mayo provided a rental car, a superb furnished apartment a mile from the hospital, and covered moving costs. During my cross-country commute, I explored Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs. The narrow, twisting mountain road to the 14,114-foot summit rewarded me with an incredible view. Once in Scottsdale, AZ, I had many opportunities to climb Camelback Mountain, just a few minutes from my penthouse apartment. I even managed a side-trip to Coconino National Forest in Sedona, AZ.

It’s safe to say that I would never have driven more than 2,500 miles to Arizona and enjoyed its natural wonders had it not been for locum tenens. The fact that Mayo reimbursed the trip definitely enhanced the experience!

Locum tenens travel has its benefits…

Physicians who work locum tenens can combine work and vacation. Because staffing agencies routinely reimburse plane, hotel, and rental car expenses, some vacation costs may be covered. Companies like CompHealth even provide a 24/7 travel agency to help with arrangements.

In addition, while the practice of medicine is relatively uniform throughout the country, I’ve learned a lot from new colleagues at various institutions who exercise different practice styles. Exposure to a multitude of practice settings also revealed the type of clinical practice that suited me the best.

…And its challenges

Efficient and comfortable travel can be challenging. Long lines at airport security, delayed and canceled flights, cramped economy seats, crying babies, fatigue, frustration, inclement weather, not to mention traffic jams in unfamiliar cities constitute some of the many inconveniences of modern travel. The fact that locum tenens agencies do not reimburse for travel time adds to the pain.

For example, my weekly flight from Newport, RI, to Sioux Falls, SD, was a long trip. The flight required a change of plane somewhere in the Midwest. Sure enough, on my very first trip, the connecting flight was late. I waited patiently, reassured by the airline agent that the plane would eventually arrive. When the airport finally closed at midnight, it became clear there would be no outgoing flight that day. I was shuttled to a nearby hotel for four hours sleep, only to rush back to the airport early the next morning to catch the first flight to Sioux Falls.

During the long wait, I dialed up the CompHealth travel agent. It was clear I would be late if I ever got there at all. Who would attend to my patients the next morning? Although the agent couldn’t do anything about the canceled flight, she did alert the hospital of my predicament. The hospital arranged for coverage, and the patients were cared for until I arrived the next afternoon.

Strategies for more comfortable locum tenens travel

After experiences like the one above, I’ve developed strategies to increase the likelihood of productive and comfortable travel. This topic is so important that I dedicated an entire chapter to “Travel Tips” in my latest book, The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens.

Here’s a short list of travel tips:

  • Plan airplane trips carefully with your agent, focusing on direct flights
  • Use smartphone travel apps for airline, hotel and rental car
  • Join membership/loyalty programs for airline, hotel and rental car
  • Bring the best laptop you can afford
  • Include a duplicate set of charging cords for all gadgets in travel bag
  • Store files you may want to access on cloud storage with Dropbox, Google Cloud, iCloud or equivalent
  • Invest in a noise-canceling headset
  • Bring amenities like eyeshades, pillow, slippers, hand sanitizer
  • Insist on exercise and healthy meals while on the road

Planning is everything

Locum tenens assignments often require frequent travel. Planning and attention to productivity on the road as well as personal comfort can transform travel from a necessary evil to an invigorating adventure. If you try a locum tenens assignment, your agent will help you prepare. Best of luck and bon voyage!


Dr. Andrew Wilner

Dr. Andrew Wilner

Andrew Wilner, MD, FACP, FAAN, is a neurologist, health journalist, and an avid SCUBA diver. His latest book is The Locum Life: A Physician's Guide to Locum Tenens. He hosts the biweekly podcast "The Art of Medicine with Dr. Andrew Wilner" and the YouTube channel "Underwater with Dr. Andrew."

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