In a May 2018 article, Dr. Linda Girgis spoke highly of locum tenens as a tool for young clinicians opening new practices. Considering the average medical professional’s tendency toward overwork — especially when they’re growing their own business on top of providing care — having the ability to take an occasional vacation is both a luxury and an absolute necessity, the family physician said.
To be sure, Dr. Girgis’ assessment is correct. The threat of burnout is both real and extremely serious, making the ability to catch one’s breath critically important. But beyond this stress-busting utility, locum service can help clinicians looking to start their own practice in several other ways — provided they’re willing to become part of a locum talent pool prior to opening a business in their own name.
1. Develop a Rounded, Diverse Skill Set
The training process for physicians and advanced-practice clinicians is notably tough and time-consuming, filling aspiring professionals’ heads with an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge before sending them out into the world via residency. Even then, however, there are plenty of skills that those years of learning don’t — and indeed, can’t — teach you. While you do come out of residency with the knowledge and practical skills needed to practice medicine, on-the-job experience fills the gaps with skills and insights you only pick up through hands-on work.
Ultimately, this is where working as a locum can prepare you for private practice in a way few other models can. In a year or two, you may encounter more work environments and situations than the average medical professional does in five (or more!), giving you a veteran’s experience before you so much as sign your first lease.
An article from popular “doctor blogger” Kevin Pho paints this idea in more detail. Pho, who goes by the name KevinMD online, worked an impressive six years of locum service before moving on to a traditional full-time career path. By the time he accepted his first permanent job, he’d become “a highly seasoned physician who had been exposed to the widest variety of patient populations and practice styles.” Instead of spending the six years in one or two places, he exposed himself to numerous different takes on his specialty, an experience that vastly improved his ability to approach challenges and solve problems.
2. Expand Your Problem-Solving Abilities
Of course, this isn’t to downplay the skill of those who go into traditional employment (including opening their own private practices) straight out of school. That model has worked just fine for countless clinicians across a broad range of services and specialties. But there’s something to be said for starting as a locum, too: With fresh grads making up a large percentage of the tens of thousands of locums across the country, it’s fair to say temporary assignments have real allure.
The problem-solving skills mentioned in Dr. Pho’s piece are one example of the experience service as a locum can impart. As a locum, you experience a large variety of specialization-specific problems — valuable knowledge to have when you encounter the same thing at your own practice. Because you’ve experienced (and developed) numerous strategies for dealing with them, the solutions you deploy at your eventual permanent posting come from an experience-based, data-driven mindset.
3. Build Cultural Awareness
More, time as a locum gives you cultural experience that’s difficult to pick up from a course or a single posting. Besides determining which geographic, cultural, or socioeconomic landscape you’d most like to work in, experiencing different regions can inform your interactions when you settle down in private practice. Instead of subjecting patients to a one-size-fits-all manner, you have the knowledge needed to make subtle changes to your language, approach, and delivery.
Then there’s the larger idea of encountering unexpected challenges. As Dr. Pho notes in his article, his time as a locum effectively made him immune to the stress of encountering new hurdles. Locum tenens work gave him the knowledge he needed to approach specific challenges, of course, but it also imparted him with the confidence and professional skills needed to dive into something entirely unknown. That’s an important distinction when you’re on your own in private practice, where patients looking up to you as the ultimate source of authority.
To reiterate, jumping straight into your own private practice is a perfectly valid choice out of school, a fact made clear by the thousands of health professionals who choose to do just that. If you’re hungry for a diverse experience, however, and especially if you wish to apply those skills to permanent roles you accept in the future, a few years as a locum is all it takes to bolster your education and residency with skills and experiences you won’t learn from either. Considering all the other advantages locum tenens offers clinicians, that makes it quite an attractive alternative to full-time work — and the best skill-building career model a young clinician could ask for.
Is locum tenens right for you? Check out Barton Associates’ quiz to find out!