What it’s like working locum tenens in Hawaii

Picture of man surfing in Hawaii

Locum tenens physicians aren’t living the typical doctor lifestyle. As travelers, they have many more options when choosing a location for taking an assignment — and even when that place might be a once-in-a-lifetime assignment in Hawaii, there’s a lot to consider. Here, we get into what it’s like to live and work on these beautiful islands and get some insights from physicians who’ve taken assignments in Hawaii.

List of things locums physicians can expect if they work in Hawaii

Why some physicians choose locums in Hawaii

For many people, working in Hawaii may be appealing simply because of the access to beaches and beautiful island views, while for others, it may be part of a practical career path. For psychiatrist Dr. Michael McGrath, Hawaii started as a good opportunity, where he was offered a position at a community mental health center on the Island of Hawaii (Big Island) that would also help repay his medical school loans. That was in 1995, and he’s stuck around since, working in various positions before finding his way to locums in 2016. “That was very lucrative and enjoyable, and when my assignment ended, I went full-time into the locums coverage of the hospital,” he says of his move to more locums work.

Hawaii was already home for Dr. Brenton Yuen, making it easy to commit to work there. He was just out of residency and explains, “It was kind of a natural decision to stay here. I had my professional connections already set up within the state, so that’s how I ended up here.” But just because he decided to stay in his home state didn’t mean the young doctor wasn’t considering future flexibility.

“As far as the decision to do locums, I always knew that I wanted to keep my options open, especially early on in my career,” Dr. Yuen says. “I didn’t want to get anchored down too quickly, so locums presented itself nicely. Not only was locum tenens an opportunity to stay here in Hawaii, but it was also an opportunity to have a foot out the door in case the desire to travel kind of hit me.”  

Quote from Dr Yeun about working locums in Hawaii

Although most residents take permanent jobs out of training, Dr. Yuen noted that he’s starting to see locum tenens gain in popularity.

“There is definitely a younger crowd of locum physicians. Like me, many of them are fresh out of residency training and want to use their time when they’re young to explore someplace new,” Dr. Yuen says.

Locum tenens and other work opportunities in Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands have many different healthcare needs that are well-suited to physicians who crave new experiences and different ways to use their skills. This is especially true for physicians who are interested in working locums.

Dr. McGrath has worked in various positions in Hawaii — community psychiatry, crisis shelters, hospitals, and administration. He also helped open a psych unit in Kona on the Big Island. Lately, he juggles six jobs including a private practice and locums work, but notes that none of them are overly taxing time-wise. 

“The idea of being able to utilize my skillset where it would be most needed is gratifying, and the idea of being able to travel and connect with different people, places, and things is exciting to me.”

Dr Koyanagi quote about working in rural shortage areas in Hawaii

Psychiatrist Dr. Chad Koyanagi also finds diverse work on the islands, which helps him achieve his mission to help the people in his community. “I’ve always felt the need to serve my community, so I’m committed to trying to help address more of the rural shortage areas, and working in a unique state like Hawaii with island geography allows me to do so.” Dr. Koyanagi says.

While he works in a hospital on busy Oahu, he works outpatient locum tenens with homeless populations and those experiencing mental health crises in Kona on the Big Island. “Probably every island other than Oahu has major shortage areas for mental health, so it makes a lot more sense for me to spend the time I have serving an underserved area in Hawaii,” he explains.

Dr Koyanagi quote about working locum tenens in Hawaii

Long-term locum tenens assignments in Hawaii

Some doctors seek out locum tenens, but locums found Dr. McGrath. In 2016, the hospital in his community needed extra help, so he decided to moonlight working locum tenens. He loved being able to help, and the extra money didn’t hurt either. Now, Dr. McGrath works full-time as a locum tenens psychiatrist for that same hospital. He loves that he is highly involved with the hospital but also likes walking away from bureaucratic issues and focusing on patient care.

Dr. McGrath says that a longer-term locum tenens assignment has also allowed him to connect well with his colleagues. “I’ve had nurse managers, CEOs, and medical officers come and go. But — knock on wood — I’ve been able to stay and be part of the transition and keep the goals of the behavioral health unit moving forward,” he says.

In the future, Dr. McGrath is thinking about traveling with his wife to new destinations as a locum tenens psychiatrist. He explained that his kids are in college now, so he’s not as tied to a particular place.

Locum tenens in Hawaii: the unique realities

Even though it’s easy to want to stay in Hawaii after your assignment has ended, working and living there can vary wildly depending on the island you land on. Oahu is the most densely populated metropolitan island of Hawaii — and what comes with access to iconic beaches and fast-paced city life is a higher cost of living, more traffic, and high competition for limited housing.

Meanwhile, if you find yourself working on less populated islands like the Big Island, which is more rural and agricultural than the rest, your cost of living goes down, and so does the pace of your lifestyle. That’s why locums work is a good fit for Hawaii, though — whichever part of Hawaii you end up on, you can test the waters, angle for assignments in other areas, see how long you’d like to work there, or take breaks and head back to mainland assignments.

Dr. McGrath felt the vast and largely rural Big Island felt a bit isolating in his early career, with fewer fellow health professionals around to connect with. However, he does point out that on the Big Island, “there is that space and the lack of crowds and traffic, which I’m very familiar with from living in Chicago and training in LA, and you get kind of tired of that.” But, he says, if you crave more cosmopolitan pastimes, it’s easy to hop on a quick flight to Oahu to indulge in culture, restaurants, shows, and theater.

Dr McGrath quote on the environment and climate in Hawaii

“Also, you have the ocean, mountains, forest areas, and desert-like areas, so it’s got everything you could think of climate-wise and activity-wise for rural things,” he says.

Consider Hawaii for your next locums assignment

Taking a locum tenens assignment in Hawaii is a great way to recharge, reduce burnout, and revitalize your practice. The slower pace of living and schedule flexibility leave plenty of time to enjoy the multitudes of outdoor adventures. And while the cost of living may be higher, most physicians who’ve worked locum tenens in Hawaii feel the tradeoff is more than worth it since they’re living and working in a tropical paradise.

Interested in the possibility of living and working in Hawaii? Give us a call at 1.866.858.6269 or view today’s job opportunities.