No two physicians are exactly alike, and no two locum tenens assignments are the same. Likewise, the reasons for working locums and the different ways physicians integrate it into their lives are just as varied. Here are four ways physicians have made locum tenens work for their practice and their lifestyle. Locum tenens is far from an all-or-nothing proposition.
1. Locums 10-14 days a month, at home the rest
As Dr. Sonya Sloan was completing her orthopedic surgery residency, she was eager to practice in the field for which she trained. But she was also anxious to start a family and “to live a little.”
“After fifteen years of schooling and training, it was time to have a family, and the option to go full-time — to start a practice and be on call — wasn’t conducive to what I wanted or needed,” Dr. Sloan says. “I needed a lifestyle. I needed options. And locum tenens was that option. I choose where I go, how long I’m there, what I’m willing to do and what I’m not willing to do.”
For more than 12 years, Dr. Sloan has accepted locums assignments everywhere from small, rural hospitals to level one trauma centers. She travels 10-14 days per month and reserves the rest of her time for family and life at home.
“I call myself supermom. I call myself ortho doc. I call myself the traveling doc, as well as being an entrepreneur,” Dr. Sloan says. “To make it all work, I have a great support system — I have a great husband, nanny, and maid. We built it all around the kids to make sure they have what they need. But I’m still able to get away and do what I love: surgery.”
Dr. Sloan values the diversity of experience locums provides and the opportunity to learn to function in all professional environments. But ultimately, the lifestyle is most rewarding to her and allows her to devote time to her family, as well as her philanthropic pursuits.
“Locum tenens has afforded me the opportunity to be more than just my profession,” says Dr. Sloan. “I’m an orthopedic surgeon by trade but there’s more to life. So with that, I definitely have a pay it forward mentality and a mindset of what legacy I’m going to leave.”
2. Full-time locums (with lots of time for fishing)
After several decades in private practice for a small, semi-rural two-hospital system, pulmonary critical care specialist Dr. Richard Rothfleisch was ready for a change.
“I was on call pretty much 24/7, 365 days a year,” says Dr. Rothfleisch. “I ran the numbers and was amazed to find out I could make the same amount of money doing locums full-time, working 14-15 days per month and blocking the rest of the time off for myself. I had never in my life experienced that much time to myself where I could just do what I wanted to do.”
He and his wife explored where they would live if they could live wherever they wanted. They settled in South Florida, where they enjoy downtime at the beach and where Dr. Rothfleisch has discovered a passion for saltwater fishing.
“When I’m home, I’m home. There’s no pager, there are no callbacks. We’re at the beach or on the kayaks or paddle boarding or taking a boat out and going fishing,” says Dr. Rothfleisch. “Not only is it enjoyable from a personal perspective, but you also go back to work feeling totally recharged. For me, at least, it’s been an opportunity to cast off that weight and return to the joyous aspects of practicing medicine — patients, the mental challenge, the coming in and fixing some potential disaster and then getting a big hug from Grandma. That’s a pretty priceless thing. I truly wish I would have done it sooner.”
In the seven years Dr. Rothfleisch has been traveling, he has practiced in more than ten states and had the opportunity to work in a variety of clinical settings.
“There’s a professional aspect to it where I get the opportunity to learn and interface with colleagues and learn different and sometimes better ways of doing things,” he says. “That’s enormously beneficial because not only is it more interesting than seeing the same stuff day after day, but it improves your skills and your breadth of experience. Then, when you go elsewhere you take that knowledge to your next assignment and have more to bring to the table there. I live in Florida, I’ve been as far as Washington state and Albuquerque and Midwest and Southeast. There’s more than one way to make good soup.”
3. The occasional weekend on the side
For general surgeon Dr. Blaine Cashmore, locum tenens represents a way to expand his professional horizons and earn supplemental income, while still maintaining his full-time position.
“I think it’s enjoyable to see how things are done at other places, to meet new people, and kind of see whether the grass is greener on the other side without having to extend yourself to something like actually looking for another job,” Dr. Cashmore says. “And as far as the money part, I always look at it as, if I do this for this weekend then we can splurge on something we hadn’t planned on doing.”
Dr. Cashmore takes locum tenens jobs close to home so he doesn’t have to travel far — no more than a few hours’ drive away. Although, sometimes he uses the assignments as an excuse for a mini weekend vacation with his family.
“Depending on the season, we scope out the area and find hikes or waterparks or something fun in the community,” Dr. Cashmore says. “Sometimes we find a fun hotel and my family spends time lounging at the pool or spending time together. It’s something they’ve really enjoyed.”
Professionally, Dr. Cashmore values the assignments that benefit patients in medically underserved communities in his home state of Utah.
“Rural assignments are especially rewarding, because they can’t just transfer someone to a hospital down the street,” Dr. Cashmore says. “People come in with often simple problems like appendicitis and the hospital would have had to put them in an ambulance and send them a couple of hours away. So, when patients find out you’re a locums, they’re certainly grateful they didn’t have to inconvenience themselves, pay more money and travel long distances to get something pretty simple taken care of.”
4. Staying active in retirement
Dr. Michael Levien devoted nearly four decades to a rewarding full-time practice in pediatric oncology in private practice in Virginia and then at the Cleveland Clinic. After his initial retirement in 2012, he realized he wasn’t ready to be retired and accepted another full-time position for several years. Upon his second retirement, he turned to locum tenens as a way to stay active and continue practicing.
“After I retired for the second time, I discovered I didn’t want to sit at home. However, there aren’t a lot of positions for senior staff,” says Dr. Levien. “I liked the idea of locums because it created a lot of opportunities. I can just be there when I’m needed, the compensation is really good, and it feels very worthwhile.”
In his locums experience, Dr. Levien’s assignments have been at facilities that were hard-pressed for staff, and he’s always felt a warm reception.
“There is a feeling that they really need you, so you’re welcomed with arms wide open. It has worked out very well.”
Dr. Levien’s locums assignments include Georgetown, Virginia, and Maine, and he enjoys traveling with his spouse to various locales.
“My wife really enjoys traveling,” says Dr. Levien. “She’s from New England, so we had a lot of fun in Maine. We had a wonderful time exploring this beautiful state. She always comes with me, which is great for me. Even during COVID, we made the best of it and had a really good time.”
Whether you’re looking for a more flexible career alternative or just want to earn a little extra money on the side, locum tenens can fit into any physician's lifestyle.