Locums: The Long-Term Benefits of Short-term Physician Jobs

Whether physicians are fresh out of residency, established in their midcareer or in a preretirement phase, short-term physician jobs as a locum tenens can provide long-term benefits.

“Locums gives physicians freedom and control,” said intensivist Stephanie Freeman, MD, MBA, author of Doc for Hire: A Blueprint for Living a Locums Life. “You pick assignments and work when you want to work. It gives you control over your career.”

Freeman has worked locum tenens in critical care settings for the past 12 years.

“Locums is really positive,” added Andrew Wilner, MD, FAAN, FACP, associate professor of neurology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis and author of The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens, which will soon release as an audiobook.

Here are the top benefits of locum jobs, cited by both authors:

5 key benefits of short-term physician jobs

1. The ability to check out different work settings

“Locums provides variety, meeting new people, seeing how different places do things and caring for different types of patients,” Freeman said.

Wilner had practiced in a variety of settings while working short-term physician jobs. He found he enjoyed academic medicine and teaching the next generation.

However, some locum tenens physicians enjoy working in community practices, while others will fly into a rural community, work a week and fly home to a more urban locale.

In some locum tenens job locations, physicians might see a preponderance of patients with different conditions than they are used to, such as more sport and water injuries in Hawaii.

“Many see different things clinically than they are used to and that makes it more interesting,” Freeman said.

Locum tenens lets physicians expand their experience, which can be helpful in the long term, Wilner added. It can also allow newer physicians to narrow down their likes or dislikes.

“You can try out geography and different practices,” he said.

Mature physicians are also in strong demand for these short-term jobs, because of their confidence and people and clinical skills, Wilner said.

2. The freedom to find the right options for the future

Locums can serve as a bridge to a new career, Wilner explained. A physician could work as a locum tenens provider while starting a business, trying out medical writing or finding a new clinical position. It allows the physician to remain current as a clinician, earning good money, while trying out new opportunities.

“It’s a tool most physicians do not know is available,” Wilner said.

After Wilner married, he decided to settle down and accept a permanent academic position. He interviewed in multiple locations, trying to find the right position at the desired salary.

“Locums allowed me to look for two years,” said Wilner, adding that it provided him the freedom to say no. “If I had not had locums to fall back on, I would have taken a job. Locums gave me the luxury to find what I wanted.”

Locum jobs can also enhance your resume and provide networking opportunities for future full-time jobs.

3. The capacity to control your own schedule

“Locums allows one to control their own schedule,” Wilner said. 

Some locum tenens physicians, especially hospitalists, work seven days on and then seven days off. Additionally, physicians working locums may decide to accept a three-month assignment and then take the next three months off. Wilner did that and spent his off months writing, scuba diving and traveling.

Freeman took the month of June off this year, just to give herself a break and to refresh.

“I did not have to ask permission,” Freeman added. “I create my own schedule.”

For some locum tenens physicians, short-term physician jobs can become a full-time career. Often at locations experiencing long-term difficulty in recruiting a full-time physician, the locum tenens doctor may rotate in and out multiple times, Wilner said.  

4. The potential to find balance and avoid burnout

“Locums is a cure for burnout,” Freeman said. “Many physicians get into a rut with routines, being in the same place with the same patients. Locums provides variety.”

With that flexibility, locum tenens offers great work–life balance. Physicians who consider balance a priority can accept a locums position that offers fewer hours and more time off, for instance, at a small community hospital.

“Locums enables physicians to practice medicine the way they want to do,” Freeman said.

Wilner also noted that physicians working locums can enjoy treating patients and not worry about the business aspects of practice.

“You are isolated from everything but doing your job,” he said.

5. The assurance of a safety net in times of uncertainty

“Every physician should be doing locums, if permitted based on your employment situation,” Freeman said. “There is no such thing as a permanent job.”

Because of losses from COVID-19, many health systems, hospitals and practice losses had to furlough some physicians, Freeman reported. It could happen to any physician.

“They suddenly found themselves without a job,” Freeman added. “They had to find something to do at the last minute. The best way to protect yourself from layoffs is to always have locums as a backup.”

At first that may sound difficult, but Freeman explained physicians who work split-week block shifts can pick up locum assignments in their week off from a full-time job. Additionally, some will pick up shifts at night or on the weekend.

Getting started as a locums tenens physician

“The key when first starting to work as a locums is to do it with a reputable company with an experienced recruiter,” Freeman said.

Wilner started his locums career with Staff Care, and considers agencies and recruiters key to securing the right assignments.

He suggested first-time locums might want to start off with a shorter assignment and see if it works for them. He did caution that there is a reason the hospital or clinic is seeking a locum tenens provider; the organization may be having difficulty filling a full-time position rather than just covering a vacation or maternity leave. Even so, assignments are just for a limited time, and the healthcare professionals at that facility are grateful to have help.

In a community hospital, the locums physician may be the only person with that specialty, so Wilner suggests that locums positions are for physicians with confidence and strong skills.

“You have to be a physician not bothered by change,” Freeman advised. “If somebody does not mind new people and new situations, locums is something to consider.”

Related:
The Real Story Behind the Locum Life
10 Things I Wish I Had Known as a New Locum Tenens Provider
What Does Locum Tenens Mean for Your Career?

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