“Becoming a locum tenens provider was in the back of my head for many years prior to starting,” Whitehead said. “But I recognized I had to build a skill set for a couple years before taking any travel position.”
So, to gain credibility before transitioning to travel jobs, Whitehead began her career in a permanent position as a cardiology specialist.
“I was working at a practice that was actually quite difficult, meaning too many hours, only two weeks off a year, 10 days in a row and no comp day,” she said. “It was too much.”
It was her father who eventually pushed her to explore locum tenens work.
“I remember my dad asking: ‘Well, what do you want to do with your life?'” she said. “I replied, ‘I want to travel, I would love to do that.’ And then he said, ‘Then you should pursue locums.’ So then I started researching who the credible agencies are, and then I got a call from my agent now at Barton.”
“He’s my favorite agent I’ve worked with so far,” Whitehead said. “I had a bad housing situation in Wisconsin, and within 30 minutes, he gave me a new housing option. It was great to know that he was that fast to answer that problem.
“That is actually the biggest relief for me—Barton takes up all the heavy lifting when it comes to the paperwork,” she said. “All I have to do is just show up … I don’t want to see the politics and the administrative stuff. I just want to come in and help.”
The Benefits of Working with Barton
Whitehead said her locum journey started off strong when she took her first assignment in 2020.
“The coworkers in Wisconsin were absolutely amazing,” she said. “I’ve never laughed so hard in my life over such serious COVID times. That was wonderful.”
Though her experience on that assignment and with Barton was positive, Whitehead found herself pressed to find another position in cardiology last year, which led her to work with a different agency to find more opportunities.
However, “it was a difficult agency to work for,” she said. “I’ll say that it was many issues, many frustrations. It was a very stressful assignment in many capacities.”
While she recognizes each agency is different, Whitehead said the recruiter relationship she had with Adam at Barton was unparalleled compared to competitors.
“One of the biggest things I value with Barton, or at least with my agent, is the responsiveness,” she said.
Since returning to Barton, Whitehead and her recruiter have accrued more licenses and assignments. Whitehead was eventually placed on an assignment in Seattle—an experience she was grateful for.
“That one was closer to my brother that I wasn’t able to see for many years,” she said. “So I was actually able to reconnect after 10 years and I was able to visit him repeatedly over the course of that assignment for six months, which was absolutely amazing and I would not have had that opportunity otherwise.”
Aside from the benefit of visiting nearby family, Whitehead said her work in that practice was fulfilling and educational.
“When I arrived it was bare bones, and by the time I left, it was built back up with new permanent staff and they said the environment had really improved,” Whitehead said.
“That was electrophysiology and when they interviewed me, I informed them I don’t have a strength in that specialty, but I would be willing to learn and I do have at least the basic knowledge,” she said. “They said, ‘We’ll be willing to allow the learning curve, we just need the help.’”
Whitehead’s Tips for Locums
Whitehead is currently on assignment in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and will be living the island life until December.
“The doctors and the people [and] the culture here are very unique and it’s also allowed me to explore so much,” she said. “It’s an interesting island that has been really fun. I’ve met some really interesting people.”
This is Whitehead’s second term at this facility. “On the first assignment, I was waiting for a provider to come in and so until she arrived, I was replacing her,” she said. “Now they have me coming back to help with an 83-year-old cardiologist and the growing practice.
“I really enjoyed the transition back,” she continued. “Actually, it was a relief so I didn’t have to go through all that training.”
Providers who take advantage of locum tenens assignments get access to a lot of very unique learning opportunities, Whitehead said.
“A lot of these practices are desperate for a provider with at least the basic skill and you will learn the rest as you’re there,” she said. “They recognize that you’re a locum and you do have a learning curve if you’re transparent. I think it’s very important to be transparent with your skill set. I’ve worked with providers that they’ve had to fire because they were not at the skill set that they reported or they were very difficult to work with and confrontational.”
Whitehead was comfortable heading into her most recent assignment due to her history with the facility. However, when it comes to heading into a new environment, she suggests locum tenens providers should be “very flexible with understanding how they’re practicing. We’re not going in to change it. We’re just there to help their practice, whether it’s going through a hard time or [it has] a [shortened] staff.”
Whitehead also said locum providers should acknowledge that some practices ”are very nervous about us coming in. I’ve started in several places now that have had locums for the first time, and I’m the first one, and they’ve voiced months later that they were nervous who was coming in.”
The first few weeks in a new assignment are always an adjustment period, according to Whitehead.
“You’re still settling into a new location, you’re finding out where your restaurants are, or trying to figure out your sleeping situation,” she said. “You have to have a level of recognizing that there are unexpected stressors that will come through, whether it’s your housing, your travel, or the providers you’re working with. But, in general, they want to make it work. I found all these practices are very open to embrace you into their practices—they want you to be part of the team.”
Whitehead says throughout her history of locum tenens assignments, she’s seen many techniques and approaches. Some facilities are run the old fashion way, while other practices sought to be industry leaders by implementing new strategies. Either way, she said, the experience was beneficial.
“Seeing that variety is actually really affirming,” she said. “It really helps you formulate your own type of practice and how you’re going to treat patients. If anything, it makes you a better provider in general.”
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