Locum tenens is a good option at any career stage if you are looking to grow, develop, and have fun adventures. Here’s why it’s a good fit at each point in your career.
Right out of residency
Many physicians take a locums assignment (or several) to try out various practice settings before making a permanent commitment.
“I’ve placed quite a few right of residency,” says Amy Duquette, an experienced GMS recruiter who has worked with physicians at all stages of their careers. “Trying out places and locations before young physicians commit can help them find a better fit. They gain a better sense of what they really want. That’s true both internally and domestically; the more practices you try out, the more you know what you like and don’t like.”
Some physicians use the window between residency and a permanent position to take a bucket list assignment somewhere they’ve always wanted to go, like New Zealand or Australia. Dr. Mike Spertus<, family medicine physician, used this gap year to go to Australia.
“The clinical experience has been quite valuable. I see mental health cases and also do pain management too,” he says.
“Our young physicians who take an international locums assignment get to use different medical skills and see patients with less bureaucracy and paperwork, which is a nice break from the U.S. healthcare system,” says Duquette. “I think it’s a good starting point and adds to their CV to show they worked internationally. It shows prospective employers that they have broadened their scope culturally, can adapt to different situations, and can step up to a challenge.”
Early career/end of first contract
Some physicians choose locums early in their careers before setting up a practice or at the end of their first long-term contract. This allows physicians to broaden their experience while learning new medical skills and enjoying the adventure of discovering different parts of the world or different parts of the country.
This is what Dr. Sara Jalali did.
“Only three years out of residency, I already started feeling burned out,” she says. “Coming here has reminded me why I went into emergency medicine in the first place. This is what I always thought practicing in my field would entail.”
The six-month assignment in New Zealand reinvigorated her passion for medicine.
“The people are lovely — so appreciative, patient, and kind. Patients often tell me, ‘You can send me home; you guys are busy, and other patients need this bed more than I do,’ ” says Dr. Jalali.
Taking a single locums assignment or moving to full-time locums are both great ways to revitalize your career if you’re feeling burned out. It allows you to have more freedom and flexibility over your schedule, get out of the daily grind, and focus more on providing medical care without so much paperwork.
These are some of the reasons that Dr. Eva McCullers, a psychiatrist, left her full-time position to take as much or as little domestic locums as she desires. She says that with locums, she’s better able to make a difference to patients, use her time effectively, and share her gifts.
“I think the first thing that comes to mind for me is the burnout that physicians typically experience after practicing about 10 years,” Duquette explains. “Not to be cheesy, but they say that locums restores their passion for medicine. Our physicians tell us that when they take their spouse and kids along on international assignments, which gets them outside of their comfort zone, it creates a special bond as a family.”
Late career/retirement transition
Many physicians use locums as a way to ease into retirement. The domestic high pay allows physicians to build up retirement savings, while gaining many opportunities to travel and/or visit family. The international assignments allow for lots of travel and adventure.
“Maybe they want three months in Wisconsin to visit family,” explains Duquette. “Or maybe they want to
try New Zealand and learn a new medical system because they still love medicine and still have much to give. As a locums, you have more control to work as much or little as you want.”
Duquette adds: “These doctors go on international assignments for the fun and the experience. Many of them have worked a lot of hours over their careers and find the 40-hour work week — plus tea in the middle of the day — along with vacation time, to be a nice change,” Duquette says. “With locums, they won’t have to give up what they love until they are ready.”
Dr. William LeMaire is one such an example. He embarked on locums assignments when he turned 55, even before locums tenens was well established. He has worked in Pakistan, Alaska, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.
“My advice is that if you have started thinking about switching to international locums work, do it. Make the jump,” Dr. LeMaire says. “Initially, it’s a little scary, but with some forethought, it will all work out.”
Another example of a doctor who used locums to ease into retirement is urgent care physician Dr. Kevin Arnold. When he was approaching retirement, he and his wife, Linda, wanted to explore new places and took an assignment in Guam because of its nearly limitless potential for travel.
One thing to keep in mind is that some international assignments do have age preferences. The mandatory retirement age in New Zealand and Australia is 65.
Duquette says, though, “Honestly, if a doctor is currently practicing medicine, and they have strong recommendations and are active and healthy, I can probably place them after age 65. I recently placed a doctor who was 74 years old — a very proficient, active physician. It’s not a hard and fast age cutoff. It might be harder, but we will work with you to try to get you the placement.”