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The Locums Life: Work Wherever You Want, Whenever You Want

Here’s a fresh take on practicing medicine: Work wherever you want, whenever you want, and earn a great salary while doing it. If you think that way of life is reserved only for entrepreneurs hammering away at laptops at their local Starbucks, think again. This could be you, doctor. Have you considered working locums?

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Physician on FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) knows a thing or two about locums. We reached out to this anesthesiologist and physician financial thought leader on his experience working on a locum tenens basis.

For those of you not well-versed in this language that our high school guidance counselors assured us would be useful, locum tenens roughly translates to holding a position. Hospitals and other healthcare institutions will often fill vacant positions with temporary locum tenens workers until finding a permanent replacement. Here’s what PoF had to say about locums.

Why new doctors should consider working locums

It’s a great way to experience different practice styles as well as locations, says PoF, who worked locums for two years out of residency. “It was kind of like a really well-paid fellowship,” he says.

He got to do hands-on work, supervise nurse anesthetists and oversee residents, all in that two-year span. Good news, too, if you end up liking where you’re at: “Most of the places where I did locums were looking for permanent help.”

Locums work also lets you discover what type of facility and style of work best suits you.

“You might think you want to be in a large tertiary care facility. But you may find that you’re more well-suited for community hospital work,” PoF says.

There are locums opportunities out there for all types of doctors PoF says, but specialties in which a doctor works a set shift and doesn’t necessarily have a set roster of patients tend to work best.

Millennials, PoF says, may also find the locums lifestyle appealing. Value a work-life balance?

“You can take weeks or months off. You can take as much call as you want and make a lot of money in the process. It really lets you design the practice you want on the fly.”

Locums: A good fit for doctors at the end of their careers, too

“It’s a great way to practice as little or as much as you want,” says PoF. Important logistical considerations: You’ll need a state license for wherever you want to work. Or, you could stick to government health facilities and go wherever the nearest V.A. is.

An added advantage for doctors nearing retirement is that you can work places where you want to go. Considering retiring to Florida? Do a three-month stint there and see if it suits you. Added bonus: “You are able to steer clear of any hospital politics.”

Drawbacks to working locums

To make this work, you need to be flexible. Doesn’t sound like you? Then maybe locums work isn’t a good fit.

“You can’t be too rigid in how things are done. It won’t always be the way you’re used to, or maybe even the way you want,” PoF says.

Also, just because you signed a contract doesn’t mean the deal is done. Most come with a 30-day window during which the contract can be withdrawn if the employer finds a permanent replacement.

“If you have a family, certainly you’re going to have to either be away from family or have family traveling with you,” PoF adds.

If you land a locums job that you turn into a full-time gig, there may be a drawback there, too.

The locums company will likely get a generous referral fee if you become a permanent physician, limiting your ability to negotiate a signing bonus.”

Also, nota bene (more Latin?!?!): You’re responsible for handling your own health and retirement benefits as a locums physician, so, don’t end up a broke doctor.

If you’re looking to take the locums leap, PoF offers the following advice:

“There may be a specialty-specific website that aggregates jobs in your specialty in one place. A quick Google search should help you find one if it exists. Gaswork.com is a good starting point for anesthesia jobs. Cold calls to places you’d like to work are another possibility. You can also search the available jobs at different locums agency websites. Finally, there are newer platforms like Lucidity looking to connect facilities and physicians directly. I think of them as the Uber of locum tenens.”

TL;DR

Here are some tips from a seasoned locums veteran:

  • Locums are a good fit for new docs. You can experience different work in different locations and you can set your own schedule.
  • They also work for established docs looking to retire. Work as little or as much as you want. Work in locations that you’re vetting for retirement.
  • There are some drawbacks to locums work. You need to be flexible. Your situation could change suddenly. It can make family life difficult. And you need to account for your own health and retirement benefits.

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