3 strategies for success with locum tenens

March 26th, 2021 4 Min read 3 strategies for success with locum tenens Blog

Internist and neurologist Andrew Wilner, MD, FACP, FAAN, shares his strategies for success as a locum tenens physician.

It’s been nearly 40 years since my first locums assignment, and I’ve finally achieved a modicum of success. Early on, I flailed around a bit, but I’ve learned a lot since then. Here are some hard-earned tips.

Why you need a locum tenens strategy

Everyone knows that success requires dedication, hard work, talent, and a little luck. But there’s another critical element: strategy. Merriam-Webster offers one definition of strategy in military terms: “The science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions.”

If we modify that definition for our civilian purpose, it could read like this: “The science and art exercised to meet the challenge of locum tenens under advantageous conditions.” It sounds like the practice of medicine, doesn’t it? As a locum tenens physician, you need both science and art to succeed.

1. Arm yourself

When facing a new locum tenens assignment, you must arm yourself with three tools: the “3 A’s of Success.”

The first “A,” availability, translates to readiness. When a recruiter calls with a plum position, you can’t wait until the next day to call back or it may well be gone.

The second “A,” attitude, is crucial. Showing up early with a smile on your face, eager to embrace the day’s challenges, motivates others to support you.

The third “A,” ability, is less obvious to others but even more critical. You must know what you’re doing to radiate confidence and provide state of the art care.

2. Know yourself

I can’t resist another military analogy. Here’s a classic from the Chinese General, Sun Tzu, written 2,500 years ago and just as true today:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu

Locum tenens doctors must know the type of work environment that makes them happy. For example, do you like clinic or hospital work? Do you prefer a big hospital with lots of colleagues or a small clinic where you run the show? Do you want to mix work and vacation or put your nose to the grindstone and maximize income? 

To know the “enemy” requires becoming familiar with the location, hospital layout, people in charge, EMR, workflow, and the institution’s culture. I arrive a day or two early at each new assignment to get settled and scope it out.

3. Prepare yourself

One last tip. Learn from others who have already blazed a path. There’s locum tenens information on the internet and a few books on Amazon. I’ll take the liberty of putting in a plug for my compilation of facts, figures, and advice, The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens, which is also available as an audiobook.

Locum tenens offers unparalleled job flexibility but harbors many challenges. Time-honored strategies can smooth the path to success. If you hone your skills, prepare for each assignment, remember the 3 A’s and the words of Sun Tzu, the battle should be yours.


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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