I was looking at a report the other day when something caught my attention. I wasn’t surprised to see that 96% of doctors are familiar with the concept of locum tenens—most everyone has worked alongside a locum physician. What jumped out to me was that more than half of respondents were unsure of the benefits of working temporary assignments.
There was a time that a typical locum tenens was an older physician, using part-time assignments as a way to ease out of a practice and into retirement. While retired and semiretired doctors still work locum tenens, they no longer represent the majority of locum physicians. Now doctors of all ages and career phases turn to locum tenens.
I asked a number of physicians why they chose to work locum tenens—either in between permanent or as a full-time job. Here are the some of the benefits they mentioned:
1. A cure for burnout—Dr. Monica Anselmetti loved working with new moms. But the long hours, calls on her cell phone, and midnight deliveries eventually took their toll. She was thinking about leaving medicine entirely when she found locum tenens. “The beauty of locum tenens is that I work really hard at an assignment for a couple weeks or a month. I may be tired at the end of it, but I know that I’m going to have a break,” Dr. Anselmetti says. “I can take the time I need to recover and go back to the next assignment recharged and happy to be with patients.”
2. The chance to test drive a job—Not every physician is ready to settle into a permanent position straight out of residency. Dr. Johnny Shen found that locum tenens allowed him to try out different facilities—and even different states—before settling down. “I love the flexibility,” he says. “I’m not stuck in one place, and I can make my own schedule. You can’t really put a price on that.”
3. More time for family—Dr. Thomas O’Mara had been running his own practice for seven years before he realized it was really running him. “In private practice, when I was home I was never really home,” he says. “Now I don’t have to worry about the business aspects of my job, and when I’m home, I’m really home.” He even takes his children with him on assignments periodically.
4. Money on the side—Some doctors use locum tenens as a way to supplement their income. Dr. Bassam Rimawi started working locum assignments while he was still in fellowship. “Doing locum tenens work at the same time helps to get that extra paycheck under your belt,” Rimawi says of his time as a young physician. “One paycheck of locum work is more than I made in three months of fellowship!
5. A way to improve skills—Dr. Val Jones is a part-time entrepreneur, part-time physician. She knew that taking temporary assignments would give her time to run her company, but she didn’t know it would make her a better doctor. “Getting exposed to different hospital systems, different patient populations, different peers who have different specialties and subspecialties has broadened my knowledge and made me better at what I do,” she says.
6. The opportunity to give back—After retiring from his general surgery practice, Dr. Samuel Williams wanted to give back. He started taking locum assignments in rural and underserved communities, including Native American facilities in Alaska and Utah, and then used the money to fund his medical missions to Africa. “I have treated people from all different backgrounds,” Dr. Williams says. “It is challenging and exciting to work in a resource-poor environment and be able to do some good.”
7. Mentorship opportunities—After completing his fellowship, Dr. Brian Harmych decided to open his own facial plastic surgery practice. He used locum tenens to pay the bills while he took care of the logistics of opening his own shop. He also learned a few things along the way. “I’ve met several great mentors throughout the [locum tenens] process,” he says. “The permanent partners at the practices I’ve worked at have been helpful, and I’ve gained valuable insights into the way different practices run.”
8. Freedom to pursue other passions—Dr. Andrew Wilner loves practicing medicine and he also loves writing about it. When he decided to write a book about neurology, he knew he’d need some time off, so he worked locum tenens—one week on, one week off. “On my week off, I was able to write,” Wilner says. “I’m certainly not expert in achieving work/life balance. It’s a daily challenge, but I think locum tenens is one way to do it.”
Melissa Byington is president of the locum tenens division of CompHealth, the nation’s largest locum tenens physician staffing company and a leader in permanent and temporary allied healthcare staffing. Melissa’s career in physician recruiting spans nearly two decades. She also serves as the president of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO).