As the shortage of experienced and skilled physicians continues to grow nationwide, so will cases of physician burnout. There simply aren’t enough physicians and enough hours in the day to cover all the needs.

After many years of practicing neurosurgery, my professional life was being eaten into by the inevitable hassles of insurance matters, hospital politics, and the business side of my practice. If my wife hadn’t been working as my office manager, I probably wouldn’t have seen her more than a few hours every week. I found myself depressed, angry, and considering closing my solo practice altogether.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a cure for burnout: locum tenens.

In early 2004, I met a fellow neurosurgeon who had been through the same challenges as I, and had opted for a career as a locum tenens physician. It didn’t take much convincing, and after completing a few trial neurosurgery assignments, I closed my office in favor of ongoing locum tenens work.

The change in my attitude and energy is remarkable, and thanks to the example of other doctors working in locum tenens, I now look forward to my monthly 7- to 10-day assignments. My family has benefited from my improvement in attitude and energy, and I tell my colleagues that my new-found career path has created the balance in my life I was searching for. My income is steady and predictable. I am no longer bound by or bogged down in day-to-day office bureaucracy and insurance company stratagems. And I have the freedom to spend quiet evenings and vacations with my family without the constant stream of phone calls.

My practice and my income are no longer tied to “production units” or how many surgical procedures I do. Now, I am able to spend my time working with patients and their families, listening to their issues, explaining the scope of the illness or disease, and discussing treatment alternatives. There is a professional satisfaction that comes from doing what is best for the patient and for the hospital. And there’s a personal satisfaction that comes from being able to divorce what I do from my compensation. Doctors are not businessmen, and locum tenens provides me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do in the first place: take care of patients.

Burnout is still a big problem in our profession, but it’s no longer an issue for me.

Dr. Duane Gainsburg works as a locum tenens physician with Weatherby Healthcare.