Being a locum doctor can be a fun and fulfilling life. My first experience with locums was when a surgeon who spent a year training under me during his residency, called asking for help after his two partners left and he was suddenly the only general surgeon in town. He called at a perfect time. I was looking for a way to slow down my practice and change it up a bit as I approached retirement in my early 50s.
I helped him by provided one week a month of locums coverage to give him a needed break from his 24/7 call schedule. It changed my life. I went on to retire from my medical practice and became a half-time locum doctor for small hospitals who had only one general surgeon. This was a great way to slow down my practice and ease into full retirement from medicine. I devoted a full chapter on how I used locums to transition out of medicine in The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement.
After my three year experience in locums, I realized there was a learning curve involved in making locums a fun and rewarding choice. So to shorten the learning curve for other doctors I put my experience into an online video course called The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens. After finishing this article, if you are interested in transitioning into locums or doing locums on the side, take my course and significantly shorten your learning curve. No sense reinventing the wheel.
There are a few specific situations where locums stands out as a great option. If you fit one of these descriptions, then you will have a great time doing locums while providing a great service to a community.
Single or non-working spouse without children at home
If you are single with no children, locums could represent a great option for you. With no family tying you to a particular area of the country, you have a chance to explore the world and get paid to do it. In my case, my wife was not tied to a job and was free to travel with me on assignments. Our kids were away at college, so we decided to visit some new places on our locum adventure. We were paid to visit areas of the country we had never seen before. I say we and not I because I never went on an assignment without taking my wife.
Don’t misinterpret my last statement to mean locums is a paid vacation; you do need to work. But since I only picked assignments with a light workload, it was almost like a paid vacation. Carolyn and I were able to have a lot of free time together in a new location. My work days were often two to four hours in length. But, if you pick a busy assignment, you might not see your spouse as much as I did.
Wondering where you want to settle down
Locums can be extremely flexible. There are many different types of work assignments to explore. If you are a young doctor and don’t yet know what type of job you want, here is a chance to explore the options. You can experience working for a large medical practice, a small medical practice, a large hospital, a small hospital, a single-specialty group, or a multi-specialty group. You can experience locums work in different parts of the country to see if you like living there. You can experience Arizona’s hot summer, Maine in the winter, or Kansas during tornado season before you commit to living there full time.
If you think you might like to work in a particular health care system, and they have a locums opening, here is your chance to test the waters. You can become a locum doctor there for a while and see how you like the administration, staff and the work. You can live in that city for real and not just trust the description in a brochure. If you like the situation, you can request the job permanently. You are much more likely to stay in a job that you had an opportunity to try out beforehand. The normal job interview process is like speed dating. You quickly learn about the practice, hospital, call schedule, job duties, briefly meet the staff, drive around town and must make a decision quickly. Locums can help you make a more informed decision.
Part time work with built in travel
If you only want to work part time, this opportunity is golden. With locums, you can work as little or as much as you like. If you want to do a lot of traveling, most employed positions are only going to give you a limited amount of vacation time, which will likely fall in the three to six week range. But in locums, you can have all the time off you want, or at least that you can afford. If you don’t want to work for a month, just don’t take an assignment for that month. Spend the month backpacking through Europe if you’d like. (My wife and I did that in our 50s and I wrote about our adventure on the Camino de Santiago.) Then you go back to work when you are ready.
You can travel without all the travel expenses. Whoever hires you for a locum assignment, pays your travel expenses. When the assignment is over, you are already in the area, so you can stay a while and do some exploring without having to pay for travel to the area. Since I tended to drive to the location, we vacationed on the way there, after we got there, and on the way back home.
One recurring assignment was on the coast. Many days we would wake up and go for a walk on the beach before I went to the hospital. We often arrived a few days early and left a few days late so we could spend more time at the beach while someone else paid for the trip.
Live in another country, work in the USA
I ran across one doctor who liked living in Europe and made his home in Portugal. He found a small hospital in America that needed some extra coverage. Each month he worked in the small American town for ten days in a row, then he would go back home to Portugal for the rest of the month. He loved his life. Ten days on – twenty days off.
Many of us hate learning new electronic medical records systems, so choose assignments that use the system you already know. Then you won’t be frustrated by continually learning a new EMR system.
Locums can be a good way to combat job dissatisfaction. When I was still working in my long term practice, I did a few locums assignments to test the water. It was really fun to have a change of pace. Working at a slower pace for a while rejuvenated me and increased my enthusiasm for my work when I returned home. Sometimes a change of pace is a good thing for your psyche.
Seasoned doctors have an advantage
If you have been at one practice for many years and you are ready to cut back and want to do some locums part time, you will be the most sought-after doctor in the system. If you were the one hiring a locums doctor to cover your practice for a while, would you prefer a doctor fresh out of training or a doctor who is seasoned and had a stable career? The doctor nearing retirement is a sought after commodity.
Some examples from my experience
Let me give you an example of the type of choices you can make by showing you what I did to craft a locum life I loved. First of all, I only chose one to two week assignments. I didn’t want a long term assignment, like covering for a three month maternity leave. I wanted the freedom to travel. Short assignments made it feel like we were there on vacation; not just working in another location.
As a general surgeon, I wanted my short assignments to meet the following specifications:
I would only cover the Emergency department and the hospitalized patients, no clinic responsibilities, I would be able to do endoscopy, it would be in a town I wanted to visit, they would accommodate my spouse to join me, the work would be in a low volume hospital, and I could drive there in a day or two.
If an assignment did not meet all the above criteria, I didn’t take it. It was my choice to say yes, or no, to every offer. So, when I was offered an assignment on a tropical island in the South Pacific that did not allow my wife to join me, I could say no and feel good about it, since it did not match my requirements.
If any of these options appeal to you, you will likely enjoy locums. Locums can be fun and can be molded to your desires. For those who don’t know what their ideal job looks like, locums is a great way to experience different work environments to find out. I found locums to be very rewarding.
If you want to make your locums time rewarding from day one, start with my course, The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens. It will get you off on the right foot from day one, and with a money back guarantee, what have you got to lose? I wish you all the best in your locum journey.