She was ready to quit: Why this doctor is still practicing medicine

Dr Mariam Aboukar

Locum tenens work was the happy outcome of a long, difficult chapter in psychiatrist Dr. Mariam Aboukar’s life, allowing her to continue to practice medicine when she thought she may no longer be able to. Here’s how locum tenens allowed her to practice medicine at her own pace and live the lifestyle she wants to live — without sacrificing any of her passions.

Long COVID almost cost her a medical career

Dr. Aboukar has a background in nutrition science and over 10 years of experience in life coaching training, psychopharmacology, and psychotherapy.

But during her residency at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital near Chicago, Illinois, and early on in the pandemic, Dr. Aboukar unfortunately got very, very sick.

“I contracted COVID in March of 2020. I had flu-like symptoms with nausea, severe brain fog, and fatigue. I felt like I had gotten hit by a bus. Then, I started to have what I now know to be long COVID. I was finishing up my residency, but I developed more severe symptoms that were recurring over and over again. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Despite the health challenges, she continued her medical education trajectory by starting a fellowship at Boston Children’s with Harvard Medical School in child adolescent psychiatry.

But then, “I started to notice that my body was just different. I was crashing, and there was a moment when I crashed for about 36 hours. My parents got so scared that they called emergency medical services. They took me to the hospital and found out that I had had some organ damage that thankfully now has been reversed.”

Being as sick as she was, she needed time off to reboot and decided to leave her fellowship.

“What use am I to my patients if I am not healthy?”

Following extended time off, Dr. Aboukar was ready to start back in the medical field — albeit with a smaller contract that had less intensity. That’s when she discovered locum tenens. This arrangement would allow her to see how well her body functioned during a work transition.

“I found myself really liking locums because of how flexible the schedule was.”

Luckily, Dr. Aboukar felt herself getting back in the groove fairly quickly. While actively managing her long COVID symptoms, working telehealth locums allowed Dr. Akoubar to continue working.

Enjoying the flexibility of locum tenens

Dr Mariam Aboukar portrait

Time to run her own podcast

The built-in flexibility of locum tenens work has inherently met her medical and scheduling needs without overwhelming her capacity. Further, Dr. Aboukar has found that the work arrangement is supportive of her pursuit of other passions.

On top of working locum tenens, she also directs MEDspiration, a podcast that discusses medical science and evidence-based tools that can improve our daily quality of life. She also runs her own S Corp, Empath Medicine Incorporated.

Dr. Aboukar came up with the idea of Self Care Sunday as a way to connect with others via her MEDspiration account on Instagram.

“I do live shows, which have become fairly popular. It shows me that people are very interested in self-care, and I was just simply having a conversation and doing a Q&A and helping them. I would start with the topic of emotional intelligence, mental health, applying for medical school, applying for residency, surviving in residency, or trying to find one’s passion, purpose, etc. Things that I was going through at the time, like how to manage or feelings that came up for me when my first patient passed away.”

“I got an exceptional amount of feedback, and I realized that people are really seeking a sense of connectedness and really seeking a sense of some hopefulness.”

The success of her work on the Instagram platform directly correlated with her decision to launch her own business and continue learning about holistic healing for practitioners, including physicians. “I’m now a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine.”

Living life on her own terms

She credits locum tenens with her ability to continue finding inspiration in medicine. She even likes that locum tenens keeps the door of academia open to her.

Pull quote Dr Aboukar work/life balance

“When working locum tenens, you don’t have to commit to one path, and you can always go back. For example, I can still engage with a university and have teaching privileges and do research and things of an academic nature. Locums allows me to do that because I can do it for just a couple of days if I really wanted to — I don’t have to do it full time.”

The chance to spend her time on her terms is a huge upside of working locum tenens.

“I have a far better work/life balance.”

Excellent pay — another big benefit of locum tenens

Beyond having more agency in her life, Dr. Aboukar finds the compensation positive in surprising ways.

Dr Aboukar quote LT compensation

“You’re compensated very well when working locum tenens, despite not having benefits. As a result of my compensation, I’ve been able to help my folks. I’ve even been able to experience the ability to manage my health better because I have more resources now.”

Related: How much can you make working locum tenens?

Have the life and the medical career you want

Dr. Aboukar continues to have her fingers in lots of pies; thanks to her locum tenens contracts, she can make a healthy wage and still has ample time to devote to her newfound passions in integrative medicine. She is actively devising new ways to support others who are struggling to feel happy in their medical careers, and using her multiple passions as a platform for treating anxiety and helping prevent physician burnout.

“I practice with a very holistic approach to wellness as I find that where there is positive mental health, there can also be greater physical health. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it can certainly help the cause.”

She encourages all physicians to consider working in a locum tenens arrangement before seriously considering abandoning the field altogether.

Dr Aboukar quote LT financial freedom/work freedom

“If you are ever down or upset, or feeling hopeless or helpless, or feeling like you’re in a really dark place when it comes to your job … try locums. It can help you decompress some of that stress and have some level of financial freedom, some level of work freedom, and a bit of a better balance between work and the rest of your life.”

As Dr. Aboukar quickly discovered, locum tenens allows you the flexibility to keep working as a physician in the way that is best suited to your circumstances and career plans.

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