Getting started in Locum Tenens

January 30, 2020

An autonomous alternative to the health system career.

Locums Tenens was not something on my radar when I was in the middle of my family practice residency five and half years ago. My presumptions were that every graduating physician would either be employed by a hospital system or join a group practice. Honestly, before the concept of locums hit my consciousness, neither of those two routes were appealing to me. 

Over the years of shadowing different kinds of physicians. I noticed an overlying theme of resentment, jadedness, and exhaustion from their experience with medicine. Sure, the life of a physician is very challenging, and everyone works very hard to make sure that he/she addresses each and every one of their patients. However, patients weren’t the cause of their exhaustion, what I sensed was that many physicians are tired of the healthcare system. After that realization, I decided to learn more about locums tenens and then eventually jumped in with both feet. 

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In the beginning, one of my professors introduced me to the idea of locums. I came to find out that she had worked locums for two years before starting her own practice in Manhattan. I had researched many locums companies online and asked many of my colleagues to give me their thoughts on the field. Based on that input and my own research I ended up reaching out to one of the largest and oldest locums tenens companies. After expressing my interest, I was soon contacted by my future recruiter. 

At first, I was apprehensive about not only the concept of locums but wondered how much work I was going to have to put into it. My recruiter put me at ease, however. She asked me which states I would like to practice in, shared how attaining licenses work, and what it would be like to work temporary assignments.

So, I gave it shot. I told my rep my preferences on where I would like to work, in what type of setting, and how often I would like to work. What threw me the most was being asked how often I wanted to work. It was totally up to me. From my time shadowing physicians as a pre-medical student, I thought most physicians just lost themselves as they dedicated more and more time to their careers. 

After being presented with a few choices, I was able to narrow down my job assignments to just a few. I chose my assignments based on location, availability of work, patient load, and ease of job requirements, amongst other things. Even after all that, I would sometimes find that the process of credentialing would affect whether I accepted a job because credentialing can often be lengthy. 

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Once a certain job assignment looks appealing and the client is interested in you, then interviews are set up with the office/practice manager and the medial director. It is essential to learn the “ins and outs” of the daily working routine and how the working day flows with other physicians and the medical staff there. 

If all goes well, then when you’re ready, you negotiate your terms regarding salary, and amenities such as travel, and housing. Call schedule and patient load can also be negotiated. What helped me the most was reaching out to physicians who had previously worked there. This helped me to bridge the gap on any remaining questions I had before agreeing to the assignment. 

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Working locum tenens has allowed me to have as much flexibility and work/life balance as I want. I also get to still enjoy my hobbies and globetrotting excursions. However, traveling from city to city and state to state presents its own challenges. It’s not always easy to be new to an area, learning to navigate around, while also trying to make new friends. 

Locums tenens provides a lot of benefits to an adaptable physician. Having autonomy, flexibility, and freedom to make your own schedule are great benefits. You also get the opportunity to visit different practice settings and cities. Locums has its challenges as well, you may have an inconsistent work schedule, and may have to deal with poor and unorganized infrastructure in some facilities. Overall, it demands that locums tenens physicians be light on their feet and for me, that is where I find the fun in what I do. Everything in life is an adventure, it’s exciting to see where you end up. 

Colin Zhu, DO, is a traveling physician who is board certified in family practice and lifestyle medicine.  He has practiced as a CompHealth locum tenens physician for the past four years.  Zhu is the author of "Thrive Medicine: How To Cultivate Your Desires and Elevate Your Life” and is a podcast host of Thrive Bites. He is passionate about the intersection of medicine, food and nutrition. He trained as a chef and a health coach at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition after medical school. Zhu has been featured in The DOMedPage Today and Stat NewsSelfUS NEWS & World Report, and Brit + Co