For many residents, the wide range of career options after training can be both exciting and overwhelming. Whether you’re looking to start practicing right away or continue on to a fellowship, you’ll have many decisions to make, such as where to live, what type of practice to join, and the size of the facility you want to work in. But if you’re not ready to immediately settle down, working locum tenens out of residency is a great way to try out a variety of clinical settings and visit new communities without a long-term commitment. Here are five things you should know about working locum tenens out of residency.
1. It has more schedule flexibility
Dr. Johnny Shen, a family medicine physician, says that locum tenens gives him the flexibility that only physicians in other specialties usually have.
“Locums affords the flexibility that medical students want when they get out of med school,” he says. “They want to be a doctor, but they also want to have a life, so they end up picking the specialties that we call E-ROAD — emergency medicine, radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, and dermatology. Those are the specialties that they end up fighting for because they pay well and have good lifestyles.”
However, Dr. Shen admits working locum tenens also requires flexibility on the part of the physician.
“You know you are going to be thrown into a place where you’re not used to the system. But as long as you have the medicine down and set your sights on making the patient well, you’re not going to go wrong,” he says. “Everything else is just ancillary — the staff, the EMR, whatever. As long as you are open to things and you know the medicine you’ll be okay.”
2. It’s a way to continue learning and sharpen your skills
Dr. Tom Willson, an ENT, says working locum tenens has helped him to continue learning and strengthen his skills.
“Locum tenens gives me more confidence in utilizing skills that I haven’t used as much on my own outside of the residency program,” says Dr. Willson. “Locums gives me the opportunity to do some of the things I don’t do as regularly and keep my skills sharp and boost my confidence.”
Dr. Arthi Chawla, a family medicine physician, says that locum tenens doesn’t just teach you hard skills; it also teaches you to appreciate the cultural differences across facilities.
“It’s not just the medical facts,” says Dr. Chawla. “It’s, how is this clinic run? What are the policies and politics that are involved in a clinic? What are the dynamics of a clinic?” Dr. Chawla says she never thought about these sorts of questions until working locum tenens.
3. You’ll earn competitive pay
How much you get paid for locum tenens is often the million-dollar question for new attending physicians. Dr. Shen says he has found that working locum tenens is a great way to earn competitive pay while having a better work/life balance.
“With locums, you can have a good life and you get paid well for it compared to other things,” he says. “I live a pretty solid life. Knowing that I can work as much as I want, I can say that this month I’m going to work four weeks straight and then the next two months I’m going to take off.”
Dr. Tuan Vo, another family medicine physician, says that even when traditional jobs pay more, the overall compensation from locum tenens can often even things out.
“The pay is pretty comparable when you look at the licensing, housing, coverage for malpractice, and what they pay you hourly,” he says. “If you look at the cost of living plus how much you are making, I think most people make comparable pay.”
4. It allows for a better work/life balance
In some ways, working locum tenens can be the perfect answer to achieving a true balance between your work and personal life.
Dr. Mojgan Saber, a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, loves the lifestyle perks of traveling for locum tenens assignments. For example, when she was in Yakima, Washington, she spent her time off on weekends in Portland and Seattle, hiking, rafting, exploring museums, and so on.
“I just love seeing new things,” she says. “I pretty much just kept going to different places every weekend that I was off. Even after work, if I had time and there was a festival or a concert, I would just go.”
Dr. Willson admits that his main priority is family, which can make traveling for locum tenens a challenge.
“When I leave the house, my wife has five children and two dogs and no partner to help take care of that stuff for her,” he says. “I try to be sensitive to that as well so we can make things work.” He says his recruiter does a good job helping him find assignments that work for him and his family.
5. You’ll have the support you need
Some physicians prefer to skip the “middleman” of an agency and work locum tenens directly for a facility that needs temporary help.
Dr. Shen says he prefers working with an agency because it saves him time and makes it easier to work with medical facilities. And, the agency does the negotiating for him.
“There are pluses and minuses,” says Dr. Shen. “But as an independent contractor, it’s nice that somebody has my back.”