Trying Locum Tenens? Have a Good Sense of Humor!

Posted on: November 09, 2016

Updated June 2019

Whether you are a locum tenens or full-time provider, using humor in the clinical setting can go a long way. Navigating your work environment, tending to administrative duties, and caring for patients require time and attention and can sometimes be challenging.

Keeping the mood light when appropriate and trying to see the humor in things can help, especially during stressful periods.

Here’s how:

1. In Your Work Setting

Who you work with and the relationships between colleagues can play an important role in how you feel at your place of employment. As a medical student, I recall hospital and clinic rounds to be mostly a somber experience. It took several years of private practice for me to lighten up a little and joke with my patients and colleagues, and what a difference it made! One advantage for permanent providers is that familiarity can help colleagues feel more at ease with one another. Feeling relaxed and comfortable enough to joke with your peers can create a positive working environment that is more jovial and less tense.

As a locum tenens provider, you may choose to work in an unfamiliar geographic area. Sometimes being in a new environment allows you to be your most open and genuine self. Not knowing anyone initially may help you feel more free. Settling in may be daunting at first, but just let go and have fun with it! Humor and laughter are known coping mechanisms — ones that you may find beneficial as you're trying to navigate both a new location and job. Whether it’s a delayed flight, getting lost around town, or discovering that your lodging is not what you expected, try not to fret too much over it. Look at it as an adventure — you have the opportunity to visit new places, meet new people, and take care of patients in a different setting.

2. During Ceaseless Admin Stuff

Burgeoning emails and phone calls, prescription refills, and excessive electronic medical record charting can be overwhelming for providers. What can one do to cope? If you are a locum tenens provider, establish a good relationship with the staff around you. Having a strong support team in place is crucial, but having a good sense of humor can also help ease some of the stress. If you reflect for a moment on the experiences you’ve had as a provider, you’ll likely confirm that practicing medicine is never dull. I recently was reminded of this after being handed a faxed prescription request for daily liquor for a patient!

Most of us are aware of the nuances of electronic medical record (EMR) systems. Recalling my days as an intern hunting down a misplaced chart for thirty minutes in the chaotic emergency room and witnessing the crash of an EMR years later are memories that still induce cold sweats, but they helped me appreciate the technology’s existence. I certainly wasn’t laughing at the time, but looking back brings a smile to my face.

3. When Connecting With Your Patients

For both permanent and locum tenens providers, humor can serve as a wonderful ice-breaker and can help a patient feel more comfortable. One potential challenge for locums is seeing an abundance of patients while trying to bond with someone they may not necessarily see again. However, locum providers can still set the platform for forming a powerful connection during that one visit.

As mentioned above, a novel environment can sometimes help one feel more open — perhaps enough to loosen up and enjoy a good laugh with a patient! Recently, a slightly nervous young male patient presented with tailbone pain from sitting down on a hard object. After performing the physical exam and discussing the diagnosis and treatment plan with him, I couldn't help but quip, “Sorry about your pain … what a bummer.” I ended my one-liner pun with a slow clap, and he broke into a smile and erupted into loud laughter.

Not up for cracking a joke? Just sharing a smile with your patient can be a great way to ease their anxiety, build a connection, and just make you both feel good. I recall the first time I learned how to do a Pap test as a medical student. It took me months to feel comfortable to conduct one without a preceptor present. Now, when a patient is nervous about her gynecologic exam, I crack a smile and jokingly inform her how lucky she is that I have evolved from taking 20 minutes to do a pap as a student to less than 5 minutes, which usually elicits a laugh and the anxiety often melts away.

The bottom line is, humor can be healing and refreshing within the work and clinical setting. Have fun with it!

About Dr. ​Eki Abrams, MD

Dr. Eki Abrams is an internal medicine physician. She was born in London and emigrated to New York when she was 9, then moved to California years later. She enjoys trying to "have it all" — she's a mother to two energetic kids, a physician, a blogger/writer, and a musician working on her second album. Visit her at

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