How to Be a Good Locum Tenens Physician

March 5, 2014

Despite being a welcome addition to a short-staffed practice, a locum tenens doc needs to follow a few ground rules to fit in.

Everyone needs to take time away from his practice on occasion. Whether leaving for a long-awaited vacation, the trip of a lifetime, an overseas conference, or a medical procedure, chances are that most practitioners aren't in the position to simply close their office door and tuck away the key while they're gone. Patients and staff rely on continued care and work, even when their primary provider is in absentia.

One person's sojourn, surgery, or sabbatical is another person's opportunity; which is where a locum tenens physician comes in.

Depending on your perspective, locum tenens physicians get to enjoy the best of both worlds. They gain experience, are presented with unique learning opportunities, and have the chance to travel for work ― all without the hassles that come with building and maintaining their own practice.

Not everyone loves having a locum tenens on-site, though, and they can sometimes get a bad rap. But when you think about it, a locum tenens has a tough job to do. From working with unfamiliar systems to developing instant patient and colleague rapport, it can be challenging to successfully assimilate oneself into an established practice on short notice.

Just like the awkwardness a substitute teacher feels when stepping into a random classroom, locum tenens physicians have their own challenges to overcome in order to build trust and offset potential mayhem in a medical office. If you are considering working as a locum tenens, here are six suggestions to help you fit in, even if it's only for a day or two.

1. Establish a set of personal guiding principles. Doing so helps you ascertain where your boundaries are and empowers you to know exactly how you will respond if those boundaries are questioned or pushed. A guiding principle can be as simple as, "I will always listen with an open mind," or as complex as, "If I am asked to perform a procedure I am uncomfortable with or urged to enter a discourteous conversation, I will decline without hesitation."

2. Observe how people interact. It can be hard for a locum tenens to feel comfortable when entering an unfamiliar practice. That's why it's a good idea to look before you leap. Take note of staff-to-staff as well as staff-to-patient interactions. Assess the general tone of communication so you'll know how best to approach the people you'll be working with.

3. Infuse the practice with respect. No matter how you see others behaving, always treat the people you're working with professionally. The first way to do that is to show up on time and stay on schedule. If you see any infighting, step outside the ring. Do not become involved.

4. Operate according to established systems. Walking into a practice as a locum tenens is not the best time to decide to reinvent the wheel. Even though the systems that are in place may be very different from the way you would set things up, it is not your place to complain or demand changes. You may have to acquiesce when it comes to accepting the overall functionality of the practice.

5. Treat people equally. There are two kinds of hierarchies within every medical practice: formal and informal. It takes awhile to understand both. Despite how others may treat you, always treat them equally. Classroom-style antics can still go on long after grade school is a memory. Refuse to play the game.

6. Follow-up appropriately. Even though your tenure as a locum tenens is temporary, patients still deserve appropriate follow-up. Keep accurate notes, communicate clearly with patients, and devise a system that will alert the absent physician about specific developments and any additional tests, exams, prescriptions, or protocols that are required for her patients after your contract is over.

While one doctor may be enjoying the R&R (rest and relaxation) of a holiday, the other needs to respect the R&R (rules and regulations) of the practice she is responsible for. By being observant, asking good questions, and doing your best to become a valuable teammate, you are much more likely to be welcomed in rather than hurried out.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, professional speaker, and author. Sue helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect, create courteous corporate cultures, and prosper through professionalism. www.TheCivilityCEO.com