Have you ever dreamed of quitting your job to go live on a beach in some foreign locale? Or have you always wanted to travel to exotic destinations, but just don’t have the time? It’s possible to combine both of these dreams while you continue to practice medicine: international Locum Tenens assignments allow physicians from the U.S. to practice in places as far reaching as Guam, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, or Canada.
Finding the right time for international work
International Locums works a little differently than domestic Locums assignments. When working Locums in the states, you can often pick up a shift here or there in addition to your full-time job or you can work Locums exclusively and travel between a variety of shifts. For international Locums assignments, you commit to working full-time in a particular location, usually for six months or longer.
Doing international Locums is a big commitment and is usually going to be easier to do when you have a natural change in your career. It’s easier to try international work right after residency, before starting a full-time gig, when you’re between contracts, after selling a private practice, or when you are transitioning into retirement.
Family and pets
You are welcome to bring your family with you on international assignments; and if you have school aged children, you are encouraged to enroll them in the local schools. It’s important to check out schools before you go. For example, in New Zealand and Australia the school year starts in January and you will likely want to keep the kids in school for at least a year. Dr. John Gallehr had the opportunity to take his family to New Zealand including his three teenage sons.
“All three children go to school in New Zealand, they have wonderful public schools, the schools are very welcoming to international students. In fact, New Zealand is well known for taking students from many cultures and so they go to school not only with New Zealand students but also students from India, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Africa, England, so they have a very international experience,” said Dr. Gallehr. “It’s a lot of fun to go on a Locums experience with the family. A part of going on a Locums experience is being in another country and it sure helps to have the family around. It’s nice to come home to the family and be with everyone and experience the country through their eyes as well.”
Pets are another question. If you want to bring an animal friend with you, they may have to spend time in quarantine upon arrival for a few weeks before you can bring them home.
Live like a local
It’s important when finding an international assignment to plan to live like a local: you will have housing and transportation provided in the town where you work and will act just like a local physician working in the same setting. You are often going to be in places that need your help. Living like a local also means being paid local rates for your services, which are often less pay than you would make working a Locums assignment in the states.
In addition, the housing, transportation, and medical facilities may be less sophisticated than what you are used to. While everything will be nice, clean, and comfortable, it may be more modest than what you are used to at home.
“The term hospitalist doesn’t translate; nobody really knows what that is. But one thing to keep in mind is that no matter how much research you do, you have to prepare to be adaptable and flexible.” says Dr. Bryan Smith, who moved his family to New Zealand for more than a year. “This is an entirely different type of system than the U.S. in that there’s no financial or profit-based motive behind healthcare. There are limited resources, and the driving factor seems to be the allocation of resources, so most people have access to healthcare. This is a very positive experience for me.”
A benefit of living like a local is that since you are working full-time you usually get vacation time that you can use to explore your location or neighboring cities or countries. From day trips to see an incredible waterfall to scuba diving throughout the Pacific there are countless opportunities for you to explore while on your assignment. Many physicians will also use the time before or after the assignment for bigger chances to explore the world.
Finding an international assignment
Once you’ve decided an international job is for you, it’s time to find an opening. You can search job boards of foreign facilities you would be interested in but know that local hospitals may not be open to foreign physicians or be willing to help you with the licensing and visa process. They also may not be willing to pay for housing or transportation.
The other option is to go through an international Locums staffing agency. Currently, the only U.S. based international Locums agency is Global Medical Staffing. They will help you identify a location, help with licensing and visa issues, and usually pay for housing and transportation.
Lisa Grabl is president of CompHealth, the nation’s largest provider of locum tenens physicians and founder of the traveling physician industry. CompHealth is part of the CHG family of companies which also includes Global Medical Staffing, the country’s only international locum tenens staffing agency.