10 Survival Tips for Locums Tenens Working Over the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—despite the extra stress and work that can accompany the holiday season. In fact, clinicians who work holiday locum tenens assignments find they are a wonderful opportunity to earn some extra cash, experience a new location and pour themselves into their profession in a new way.

“I do this most every year and find incredible meaning in the work and camaraderie with the staff who serve together,” said Kathryn Jarvis, MD, MBA, a healthcare efficiency expert and CEO of Bed Beacon, LLC.

“It’s also a great opportunity to see another part of the country,” said Debra Phairas, president of Practice & Liability Consultants, LLC.

Yet, physicians and advanced practitioners know that the holidays can be some of the busiest times of the year, and working as a temporary clinician has its own set of challenges. So how can you juggle it all and keep your sanity?

If you’re working a locum tenens position over the holidays, consider these tips to help you navigate this wonderful-yet-stressful time a little better.

10 tips for working holiday locum assignments

1. Make sure your family is on board. For many people, family support is absolutely crucial. You don’t necessarily have to take your family along on a locum travel assignment, but you can. It will depend on your location and contract. Whether you are simply taking on some extra shifts close to home or traveling some distance away, your loved ones should understand why you’re working over the holidays, what your job will entail and what your commitment means in terms of hours or days you’ll be away. Even after you start, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.

2. Reschedule any favorite holiday activities or traditions you may miss. You might be working on Thanksgiving Day. Or maybe you’ve already agreed to take a shift on New Year’s Eve. That doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite holiday traditions; you just have to find a new time to hold them. Ask your family if they don’t mind having a turkey dinner on the Friday after Thanksgiving, or find another evening to celebrate the new year with your loved ones.  You can also use Skype, FaceTime or another application to connect with family at gatherings that can’t be rescheduled.

3. Get a flu shot
. If you haven’t already gotten a seasonal flu vaccination, be sure to get one before you depart for your holiday locum tenens assignment. It’s possible that your facility may require them, anyway.

4. Anticipate likely patient scenarios. Flu season and other types of cases seem to pop up more around this time of year, affecting the patients you will treat. A 2018 observational study in the journal BMJ reported that the incidence of myocardial infarction tends to spike around Christmas, notably among older and sicker patients. Jarvis noted that she’s seen a higher number of patients with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) after eating big holiday meals without adjusting their insulin appropriately.

5. Make an effort to get to know your new co-workers. Even if you’re only going to be working a locum assignment for a few weeks, it is well worth the effort to make connections with some of the people with whom you’ll be working, said Phairas. It will it make your time at that location more pleasant and help you work better together. Plus, you never know when you’ll find a mentor, a kindred spirit or a life-long friend. Fellow locums can also make great travel companions as you tour your new city and try out the local food and festivities. 

6. Expect some temporary holiday changes at your temporary workplace.  It’s not entirely “business as usual” during a typical holiday. Just be ready for that. “During the actual holiday, patients eat food that they don’t usually eat,” said Jarvis. “Hospital administration is on vacation, so daily huddles don’t happen. It feels more like a weekend than a weekday.”

7. Do your shopping online. If part of your holiday tradition involves exchanging gifts, use the Internet more this year to avoid the shopping mall crowds and chaos, and save some valuable time. You can even arrange to have gifts delivered to the recipient, so you don’t have to wrap and mail them yourself. 

8. Indulge in some self-care. Be vigilant about getting enough sleep, and make time to relax and recharge so you can power through this hectic season. If you’re going to be staying away from home during your holiday locum assignment, don’t be afraid to do some things just for yourself. “Schedule a massage,” suggested Jarvis. Locums can also use their housing stipend to stay at a slightly nicer place and pay the difference. “It’s worth it to have that extra holiday cheer,” she added. And Phairas suggested including a few holiday decorations in your apartment, extended stay hotel or other temporary housing, if that makes you feel more at home. 

9. Volunteer. When working a locum assignment away from home, volunteering for a local cause can be a great way to spend some of your off hours. Extra volunteers are often needed to serve holiday meals to the needy, hand out food from a food pantry, or even participate in a toy drive. “It would make you feel good about doing something in a (new) town that would help people,” said Phairas.

10. Enjoy where you are. Schedule in some unique holiday experiences, wherever your locum assignment takes you. Whether it’s a snowman-building contest in the Upper Midwest, holiday boat parades along the West Coast, ice skating in front of the huge Christmas tree at New York’s Rockefeller Center, or a holiday parade, concert, or festival, every community has their own way to celebrate the season. Join in the fun and make some holiday memories. 

And remember this: you have a chance to make a significant impact by taking on a locum tenens assignment during this time of year. “Patients who are in the hospital during the holidays are truly sick, so there is a bigger opportunity to help,” said Jarvis.

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