Take control of your life with locum tenens

August 12, 2019

As summer draws to a close, take stock of your career and make sure you are living the life you want.

Editor’s note: Physicians Practice features contributions from members of the medical community. The expressed opinions are that of the writer(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Physicians Practice or its publisher.

This week is National Locum Tenens Week, a chance to celebrate those who choose to work as temporary physicians in practices large and small around the country. But being a locum tenens physician is more than traveling for work or taking short-term assignments. It’s also a way to practice medicine while more fully enjoying life.

When I finished my residency, the thought of working for a hospital system or a group practice and staying in one spot for an extended period of time did not appeal to me. Also, as a native of New Jersey who had lived most of my life on the east coast, I was more than ready to head west or south. So, I embarked on my career as a locum tenens physician.

I did not anticipate that my career would be as diverse and colorful as it has been in just four years.  I have worked various locums assignments in four different states, traveled to all seven continents, authored a book and started a podcast. Working locums has allowed me to do all of this, and it has allowed me to build my work around my life instead of the other way around.

The ability to focus on personal projects may not be something that most physicians have the luxury of pursuing. Physicians who work in full-time permanent positions are regularly called on to fulfill administrative duties, host meetings and ensure service metrics are met. Adding these extra tasks onto patient care can prove to be very time-consuming and leaves little opportunity to pursue personal passions.

Time is our most valuable and nonrenewable commodity. If you spend 12 to 15 hours - or more - at work, you have little time to spend on anything else. The same goes for vacation time. If you only have a week or two to call your own during the year, you miss out on a lot of opportunities.

I think spending time with family and friends is something we all desire more of. For me, the road trips I took from New Jersey to Florida as a kid bonded my family together. When I started working as a medical resident, getting two-day holiday breaks was something everyone eagerly anticipated - if you were lucky enough to get one. Now, working as a locums, time off or time with family and friends isn’t something I hope for, it is something I have.

Having extra time out of the office has allowed me to travel to more than 30 countries. When I travel, I seek to gain an appreciation of other cultures and traditions. I believe that understanding other people is at the root of patient care and my exposure to other cultures refines my ability to empathize, connect and relate with others. Working locums has really opened my life to new experiences, and those experiences enhance how I practice medicine. As a result of my globetrotting experiences, I was inspired to write a book that discussed these concepts and to live your best life.

In an age of increasing awareness of physician wellness and burnout, it comes down to two choices: Are you going to build work around your life, or are you going to build your life around work? There is no wrong choice. Just make sure the choice you are making is the right one for you.

My hope is that you choose a work path that allows you to find the fulfillment you want out of life. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you reflect on your past with no regrets. If you aren’t sure or feel like it’s time for a change, I would highly encourage you to consider locum tenens. 

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 News, SelfUS NEWS & World Report, and Brit + Co