Andrew Wilner, MD, FACP, FAAN, explores why locum tenens may be a good option for late-career physicians as they transition toward retirement.
Physicians pursue locum tenens assignments at all career stages. In my new book, The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens, three chapters explore physician rationales for choosing locums at the different career stages:
- Newly graduated residents or fellows may wish to explore different locations and practice styles before committing to a permanent position.
- Mid-career physicians use locums to address burnout, create a bridge to another career, acquire extra income, increase family time, travel, or wait out a restrictive covenant.
- Late-career physicians may desire increased family time, extra income, and travel opportunities. Locums assignments also provide pre-retirement physicians the opportunity to gracefully reduce their workload, which may not be an option in a permanent full-time position.
Late-career physician demographics
Because there is no mandatory retirement age for physicians, what constitutes “late-career” differs for each physician. While the median age of physician retirement from clinical work is 65 years old, many doctors work into their 70s or longer. Currently, 10% of licensed physicians are older than 70. With a workforce of 1,000,000 U.S. physicians, this percentage translates into 100,000 physicians more than 70 years old.
Locums and late-career physicians
Locum tenens staffing agencies and employers search for competent clinicians for short-term assignments. Mid- and late-career physicians with decades of clinical experience often fill the bill.
Traditional long-term employment considerations such as building a department or recruiting a partner do not apply to locum tenens. Age discrimination, which unfortunately may be faced by older physicians applying for traditional jobs, is unlikely to occur in the context of locums. Many locum tenens physicians don’t even take their first assignment until after they “retire” from their full-time position!
A sense of purpose
Many late-career physicians have dedicated their lives to the practice of medicine and neglected to cultivate hobbies or outside interests. They still enjoy the practice of medicine but would like to cut back their work schedules to enjoy other pursuits and finally get a good night’s sleep!
Unfortunately, many full-time clinical positions insist on a rigid schedule. If a schedule adjustment is possible, a disproportionate income reduction and diminished respect from colleagues may accompany a reduction in hours.
Conversely, locum tenens assignments allow late-career physicians to work as much or as little as they prefer without prejudice. These physicians can continue to practice on their terms, maintain their sense of purpose, generate income, and preserve their self-esteem.
A graceful exit
Locums can become the perfect solution for late-career physicians who wish to continue to practice as long as their clinical abilities persist. Occasional assignments permit late-career physicians to maintain their physician identities while reducing their workload. Locums offers a graceful transition to retirement from a long and productive career. When the time comes (I’m not late-career yet!), I will seriously consider locums as a pre-retirement strategy.
While locum tenens opportunities exist for physicians at all career stages, for late-career physicians, locums provides opportunities to work at their own pace, maintain physician identity, generate income, and postpone retirement until they’re ready.