Working locum tenens was a life saver for me and my early retirement. It gave me a chance to slow down and ease into the life of leisure. I don’t know how well my early retirement years would have been if I went straight from my 60 hour a week full time general surgery practice, to nothing. which was how I had initially planned my exit from medicine.
Three months before I retired, I sent out a letter to every critical access hospital in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The letter spelled out my desire to cut back and work only part time, and my wish to help out in rural hospitals who only had one surgeon.
I received more offers to work as a locum general surgical hospitalist than I could possibly handle. I chose my favorite opportunities, got credentialed, and started working half time as a locum doctor for the next three years. This gave me an opportunity to slow down before actually quitting, which I think made the transition into retirement easier.
For three years I contributed to the health of rural American hospitals and the lone surgeons who worked there. As I slowed down my practice I was able to start writing my Doctor Guide book series. Locum tenens became such a positive event in my life, I made an online course to help those who want to get off on the right foot when they start doing locums, it’s called The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens.
Following are nine things I learned about how great locum tenens can be in the life of a doctor. I trust you will find them helpful as you consider the possibilities of working in locum tenens.
1: Work When I Want
I loved having the freedom to work as much as I liked. If I wanted to take a month off to travel, I didn’t book any assignments for that month. Since I tended to work one week at a time at each location, and occasionally two weeks, I was able to space out my time on and off the clock to suit our travel schedule.
2: Truly Off When I Am Off
When I worked in my own practice, I wasn’t really off when I wasn’t working or on call. I had patients who belonged to me, and I was the doctor they wanted to see. So I often was called even when I was not on call. I sometimes even got calls from a doctor or nurse who had a question about one of my patients when I was on vacation.
But with locum jobs, I was the fill in doctor. When I was off, the regular doctor took over again and there was never a need for me to get a call from a family, nurse, or an administrator. Once I walked out of the hospital at the end of my assignment, I was truly off.
3: Everything Was Always Fresh and New
After 20 years of being in the same practice, the job got to be a bit stale. Each day was more of the same. Every locum assignment was something new and exciting for me.
The patients were new. The nurses were new. The administration was new. The building was new. It felt fresh and exhilarating.
4: Test Drive a New Job
When locum recruiters called me with job opportunities, often the hospital was looking for a full time surgeon and was using locum surgeons until they found one. I realized what a great opportunity this was for a new surgeon.
If you don’t know where you want to live, or what type of practice you want to have, here was a chance to test the waters before committing to a job.
Locums gave me the opportunity to work at a site, meet the staff and administrators, and see how I liked the people, the job, and the town before deciding if I wanted to apply for the full-time spot. Or I could simply move on to the next locums assignment if this one wasn’t a good match.
This allows one to see the workload and environments in depth far more than doing a couple of interviews before committing to a job.
5: Paid Travel
As a surgeon in private practice, I never got a paid vacation, in fact I was still paying my office staff while I was vacationing. In locums I was getting paid to travel and I loved it. My travel expenses to come and go to each assignment were paid, my wife and I received free housing while at each assignment, and since I only took assignments where the work-load was light, we had a lot of time to explore the area while getting paid to be there.
We also took advantage of sightseeing on the way to and from my locum jobs, as we always drove to assignments. Sometimes we would stay extra after the assignment and enjoy the area. One of my recurring assignments was in a beach town and I loved hanging out there before and after my work days.
6: People Said Thank You
One of the things I didn’t see coming was all the appreciation I received. People were truly grateful I was there helping their solo doctor stay healthy. Back home, I was familiar to everyone and I seldom heard someone say “Thank you for being here today.”
On my locum assignments, someone said thank you to me almost every day. It was a breath of fresh air.
7: Customized Job
I really enjoyed having the ability to decide exactly what my job would entail. Since I was trying to cut back, I picked assignments that did not require trauma. I wanted to do endoscopy so I picked towns where I would be allowed to do scopes. I did not want to do clinic, so I only accepted jobs where I was covering the hospital and only emergency issues from the clinic.
8: Great Vacation Time
This might have been my favorite thing about locum tenens: I could have all the vacation time I wanted. Steady jobs have a limited amount of vacation allotment. It is often 4-6 weeks, without time off for good behavior.
As a locum doctor, I could take as long as I wanted between assignments. I could take a 3-4 week vacation every other month if I wanted. I could even take 6 months off for a world cruise and no one would notice or care. The freedom to vacation freely was a dream come true for me.
9: No Committees or Politics
Since I was only on assignment for a short period of time, no one ever asked me to be on a committee. I didn’t have to go to any meetings. Although if there was a free meal associated, I sometimes found the time to attend.
Some meetings are fun, especially if you are not making the decisions and you are just there to listen and eat the free steak.
The political problems of the medical community were not my concern. I was usually not even there long enough to understand what was going on with the behind the scenes political maneuvering. Another breath of fresh air.
Although I covered nine great advantages to living the locums life, there are many more. If you are considering locum tenens, whether you want to work directly with hospitals or go through a locums agency, your life will be a lot easier if you stand on my shoulders and don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
Check out The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens and learn the short cuts to make your locum life better. Any single idea that improves your life is well worth minimal the price of the course. I also cover some of the disadvantages of locum tenens in this course. Might as well make it a great time from the beginning. And with my money back guarantee, you have nothing to lose. There is also some information on exactly what I did to get my assignments in rural areas in my book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement.
Best of luck to you in your locum life.