The Real Story Behind the Locum Life
Feeling stressed? Fighting physician burnout? Thinking about working locum tenens but not sure if it is the right solution for you?
A new book on this exciting practice option—written by a physician who experienced the locum lifestyle for a number of years—may help you find the answers.
The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens, by Andrew Wilner, MD, FAAN, FACP, associate professor of neurology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, was published in January 2019.
Core benefits of the locum lifestyle
In the book, Wilner explains the basics of locum tenens and how it allows clinicians to practice how they always wanted—focused on the patient, and not the business side of medicine.
“I found locum tenens relaxing and rewarding,” he said. “It’s time limited, and you are so appreciated.”
Locum tenens jobs provide unique options for physicians to achieve work–life balance.
“Locums lets you dial it down,” Wilner said. “You can work six months a year or eight months a year, and you can choose. It’s a different commitment. You don’t have administrative overhead.”
Gone are meetings and managing staff. There are no worries about patient payments or insurance reimbursements. Someone else handles all of those responsibilities.
“You show up and practice medicine,” said Wilner, adding that locums work lets physicians discover that “medicine is fun again.”
It also offers a wealth of opportunities. As a locum tenens physician, Wilner worked at The Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona; twice at the University of Minnesota, teaching residents; and at an outpatient neurology clinic in Massachusetts.
The flexibility factor
Wilner said he started with AMN Healthcare because it was a large agency with many opportunities.
“I’ve had wonderful experiences with AMN Healthcare,” Wilner said, adding that he stayed with the company because of Angie Scarle, a senior recruiter.
“She found me great assignments,” he explained. “It’s really important that your recruiter understands what you want and will look out for your best interest.”
Working as a temporary physician helped Wilner to figure out how he wanted to practice in the next phase of his life.
“Locums gave me the opportunity to see many different practices,” he said. “I developed clarity.”
Once married, Wilner and his wife traveled together to locum tenens assignments, and he kept looking for and negotiating the perfect permanent position, feeling no pressure to accept something because he had the temporary physician work.
As he tells his residents, locums is an incredible tool that gives you flexibility in your career to get new experiences and try out different practices while earning a good income.
The path to locum tenens
Ever since completing his residency training, Wilner has wanted to write. He has successfully combined practicing medicine with authoring books and articles. In fact, The Locum Life is his fourth book.
After working part-time in an emergency department, Wilner discovered his interest in neurology and epilepsy. He completed a neurology residency and epilepsy fellowship, then joined a group practice in North Carolina to help create an epilepsy center. Yet Wilner still had a yen for a more academic life and writing papers.
“Every job I applied for I realized I did not want,” Wilner said. “But I still needed to work.”
Wilner then started covering medical conferences and enjoyed that and compiled a book of essays, Bullets and Brains. However, even with publishing success, he did not want his clinical skills to become rusty. He became a neurohospitalist, working seven days on and seven days off.
“That made me realize locum tenens would work for me,” Wilner said. “I could work three months on and then three months off.”
He accepted an assignment in South Dakota and then took time off to scuba dive and film underwater, and do medical mission work in the Philippines. And so began his long career as a temporary physician.
“Locums became a life saver,” Wilner said. “It was fantastic.”
Learning the ropes
Recruiters are key to a good locum tenens experience, Wilner discovered. Not only will they work to find an assignment that matches the physician’s interest, recruiters also can negotiate a higher salary or better hours, which is something physicians often do not like to do.
Yet practitioners have to approach each assignment with the right attitude.
“Being a locums is like being a guest in someone else’s house,” said Wilner, adding that colleagues are extremely grateful for the help you can provide. “Locums requires personal flexibility. You have to feel out the way things are done and merge, or sense how to fit in.”
Additionally, he said, locum tenens physicians must be confident in their skills. Sometimes, the locum physician is at an assignment alone, with no senior physician to ask about a challenging case.
Armed with a number of stories about practicing as a locum tenens physician, Wilner wrote The Locum Life to help “anyone who wants to do locums to be successful.” It includes practical advice about how to get started, and covers topics like licensure, travel expenses, malpractice coverage and more. It also includes stories from other locum tenens physicians who share best and worst experiences, common challenges and advice for other clinicians considering the locum lifestyle.
The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens is available through all major booksellers. You can follow Dr. Wilner’s blog at www.andrewwilner.com/blog.