As an interventional cardiologist, Dr. David Jessup is fully aware of the tenuousness of life, but it hit close to home when his wife passed away unexpectedly. Suddenly, he was a single father of two kids. That’s when he decided that locum tenens might be a better career option.
There are many reasons physicians choose work locum tenens: better work/life balance, more schedule flexibility, freedom from administrative duties, as a stopgap between permanent positions, or to be able to focus more on patient care. We talked to three cardiologists about their experience working locum tenens. Here are the five ways it benefited their practices and their personal lives.
1. Better work/life balance
Dr. Jessup had built a successful career as the director of a cardiology group of about 80-90 doctors, but suddenly it didn’t matter anymore. “After the death of my wife it became evident rather quickly that corporate medicine doesn’t recognize the parental needs of a single, widowed parent,” Dr. Jessup says. “At that point I retired from that group and started doing locums. It gave me the opportunity to work and be a parent who’s present.”
“I wish I had done locums prior to my tragedy, when my wife was around,” he says. “Since I’m not having to do administrative work and meetings and be tied to my pager, when I’m home, I am fully at home.”
He says he’s never going to work another holiday again, period. “No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Me being home with my family is the most important thing,” he says. “At the end of the day, it reinforces to my family that they are truly the most important things to me on this planet — not work. I don’t think I would ever go back.”
2. A chance to focus on patients, not politics
“The best part I like about locums is you don’t have to be a slave to politics,” says interventional cardiologist Dr. Faisal Shamshad. “There’s a lot of office politics in everything, not just hospitals. Locums allows you to just focus on the medical part, which is why you went to medical school.”
Dr. Jessup agrees. “I can’t do administrative work,” he says. “I never wanted to be a businessman. Locums really allows me the opportunity to be a doctor. Now I just show up and be the best doctor I can be.”
Dr. Jessup says what fills his cup is just seeing and taking care of his patients. “That’s what I get to do every day at work,” he says. “I get to do what I went to med school to do, what I love to do.”
3. The ability to choose your own schedule
The opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with his kids has been a huge positive of locum tenens for Dr. Jessup, but the ability to choose his own schedule has been what’s kept him working locums full time.
“One of the nice things about locums is you get to pick and choose your schedule,” he says. “For one assignment, I chose to work 10 days straight. My current assignment is one week on and three weeks off. I can’t do the standard week on/week off, because with two teenagers it’s hard enough — much less grieving the way we are.”
Dr. Shamshad says that he also loves that he can choose when and how much he works. “If you need time off you can take that time off without having to worry that you have this many call hours, then you’re able to go to a conference or a CME meeting that you weren’t able to before.”
“I often say that when you do locums for over a year it becomes very hard to go back into a setting and work for the proverbial ‘man’. After realizing that about working locum tenens, I just never looked back,” says Dr. Shamshad.
4. As a stopgap between permanent positions
Interventional cardiologist Dr. Gregory Kloehn first discovered locums after the hospital he worked at closed. He found himself looking for a new job, but he wanted to stay local and in his own house. Locum tenens allowed him to keep working until the right position came along.
“Locums was a great intermediary,” he says. “I used it to keep up my skills and keep doing what I was trained to do. I really couldn’t do that as easily where I was because of political elements and a lot of competition. I had to really work hard to find a better place. So locums was perfect in my situation.”
His search was successful, and he settled into a new job. Then the 2020 pandemic came along, and he was furloughed. Dr. Kloehn once again leaned on locums, taking a six-month assignment in a small community that was in desperate need of an interventional cardiologist.
“We stabilized a lot of patients, got them where they needed to be, or we treated them there. Working locums really meant a lot for patient care in that community.”
Although Dr. Kloehn was recalled from furlough and has resumed his permanent job, he doesn’t rule out locums as an option for the future. “It could just be a stint in a part of the country where my kids are, that would be a nice thing.”
5. A chance to explore new places
“I didn’t realize that locums is what I was actually meant to do,” says Dr. Shamshad. “I never looked at locums as a career option. But the things I’m able to do outside of work are the things that keep me going. I love to explore the area I’m in and meet new people. It doesn’t even have to be a big city — I love small-town America, and walking the streets and hiking. I bike as much as I can, and I take pictures and post a lot on social media.”
Dr. Shamshad says he’s loved making friends wherever he goes and connecting with people he would otherwise have never met. “This is the enjoyable part of locums which makes me want to keep doing it and not go back to full-time work.”
Even though Dr. Jessup typically works only 10 days a month, he says he treats that time as a working vacation whenever his family can join him on assignment. “I actively pursue summer rotations in beautiful destinations so I can enjoy them with my family, then during the school year I’m more apt to be closer to home. That’s the beauty of locum tenens.”
Dr. Kloehn used his time off during an assignment to run, read, and study. “It’s also a great time to catch up on your various education requirements and CMEs. And depending on the size of the city, you can explore the theater district or enjoy the smaller towns.”
Discovering the right path for you
Whatever your career stage or life situation, locum tenens might work for you as a full-time job, a part-time side job, or as a stopgap between permanent positions. Most importantly, you may find that working locum tenens as a cardiologist will bring your expertise and care to patients who need it most.