As the saying goes, if you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life. For many physicians who work temporary locum tenens assignments, part of what they love is combining their passion for medicine with experiencing new places and meeting new people.
About 40,000 US physicians work locum tenens domestically each year. A much smaller number do so internationally, even though, for the right physician, it could be the experience of a lifetime.
Why Consider International Locum Tenens
International assignments are regularly available in places like Australia, New Zealand, China, Canada, the US and British Virgin Islands, and the Pacific islands. Not only are these incredible destinations, they create an opportunity to see different patient populations, experience new ways of practicing medicine, and immerse oneself in a new culture.
Because the pace is generally slower and the patient load lighter in what are often socialized healthcare systems, many international assignments also come with generous paid vacation time. This is an almost unimaginable luxury for most busy doctors, especially when the assignments take them to areas of the world with new things to explore.
For example, a locum tenens physician in Guam has world-class diving, ancient cultures, and tropical beaches right in their backyard and is just a few hours away, by air, from Japan, Thailand, India, and Australia, with paid time off to spend. The life of an international travel physician is a license to explore an entire region.
While being able to get paid to visit foreign countries to do what you love (practice medicine) sounds like a dream job, international locum tenens assignments differ slightly from their domestic counterparts.
Unlike domestic locum tenens, with which a physician can work assignments as short as a weekend, international assignments in locations like New Zealand, China, and Australia are typically a year commitment. However, there are shorter-term options in areas like the Virgin Islands, Guam, Bermuda, Canada, and Cayman Islands, where assignments can range from 2 weeks to 2 months. Whatever the time commitment, there’s likely an international assignment that will work with any lifestyle.
The Devil Is in the Details
There are many details to work out for international assignments. The paperwork and credentialing process generally takes 3 to 6 months to finalize. Also, transferring credentials for an international assignment can be intensive; many countries review a candidate’s educational background, beginning with middle school and going through residency. A US board-certified physician will generally be allowed to transfer as an international medical graduate, and expertise within a specialty can help. Even then, a physician’s credentials may not transfer into full recognition, and a doctor with many years of experience at home may have supervision requirements abroad.
Other practical considerations include coordinating travel, housing, transportation, and malpractice insurance. For instance, a country may permit a physician to work for 6 months, but the shortest housing lease available may be 12 months.
The logistics of working as an international locums physician are complex and can be frustrating to sort out on one’s own. Working with an international locum tenens staffing agency can help streamline the process, and some agencies will even take care of the practical details, like housing and travel.
Work/Life Balance & Salary
International locum tenens can be a great solution for physicians who are looking for a better work/life balance. A major benefit for US-based physicians is that the workload is often lighter for international locum tenens doctors, who are typically on for a standard 8-hour day, 5 days a week.
Also, the patient load can often be lighter for international locum tenens physicians, who may see around 20 patients per day, compared with the 50 patients per day they may see in the US. According to a study from locumstory.com, physicians in the United States feel they spend less time with patients now than when they started their careers, and almost all want more direct time with patients. Working international locum tenens not only gives physicians more face time with patients, it provides a much lower-stress clinical experience for both patients and physicians.
In addition to a better work/life balance and more time with patients, in locations like Australia, China, Canada, and Guam, the pay for a physician working an international locums assignment is typically as much as—if not more than—what he/she makes in the US.
Traveling to another country, learning different clinical systems, and meeting all new people is exciting but also demands some level of cultural adjustment. However, improved work/life balance and lighter patient loads help with this challenge through more down time.
Although there are challenges in planning, executing, and acclimating to international travel as a physician, working with international locum tenens agencies can make the process easier. For a physician wanting to combine their interest in travel with their passion for medicine, international locum tenens is just what the doctor ordered.