Whether you’re looking to supplement your income on the side or for full-time work as your own boss, the flexibility of locum tenens allows you to have more freedom and control over your career. We spoke with three pulmonologists to learn how locum tenens has enabled them to pursue their personal goals, travel to new places, and grow in their careers.
From medical school to medical missions
When critical care pulmonologist Dr. Jenny Martino finished her medical training in 2011, she decided to take a permanent job in Washington State. But after three years, she was ready for a change. That’s when she turned to locums, because it would give her the schedule flexibility to be able to work with Doctors Without Borders.
“I had always wanted to do international work,” Dr. Martino says. “I started planning to do locums, because I didn’t have a job and I didn’t want to lose all my American pulmonary and critical care skills. I’m able to alternate now between locums and international work, so it works well for me.”
Dr. Martino prefers locums because it allows her to take time off between assignments to focus on international work and medical missions. Some years she chooses to work six straight months of international work and then three months working locums and three months off. “Some months I work in the U.S. for nine months; it depends. I was supposed to be gone this year for six months straight, going to 15 different countries through an organization called Team 5 Foundation. They wanted to establish indigenous relationships so that they could come back and do medical projects.”
Dr. Martino’s humanitarian work was put on hold with the onset of COVD-19. She decided to go to New York, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. at the time.
“All travel stopped. I reached out to my recruiter and he found me a position in Elmhurst. There was a disaster in the U.S. that needed my skills as a pulmonologist, and I wanted to help out.”
Going where she is needed most
When Dr. Martino arrived in New York, she was confronted with a lot of very sick patients and overwhelmed residents and fellows. She was grateful to able to bring in her expertise as a pulmonologist to help out and care for some of the most critically ill patients.
“One of their doctors was retiring, one of their doctors had quit before COVID, one of their doctors got COVID so I was helping the regular ICU care,” she says.
Dr. Martino said her experience in Elmhurst was critical in preparing her for her work with Doctors Without Borders. She’s brought her pulmonology experience to places such as Afghanistan, Dominica, Myanmar, Mozambique, South Sudan, and a refugee camp in Bangladesh. She also spent time in Brazil training local staff in their remote ICU to help prepare them for COVID patients.
Without her locum tenens assignment taking her to the heart of the COVID pandemic, Dr. Martino says she wouldn’t have been as prepared for all her work abroad.
Locum tenens and private practice
Dr. Daria Lee, a critical care pulmonologist for more than 30 years, has a private practice but works locum tenens on the side to supplement his income. He also uses locums as a way to stretch himself and grow professionally.
One assignment took Dr. Lee to the island of St. Thomas where he found the health system was run similarly to a VA hospital. It functioned well but had a few notable differences.
“There was decent subspecialty support and the ability to transfer patients to tertiary facilities off the island, so it worked pretty well,” he says. “I also had to be more cost-conscious in terms of the availability of the medications — not choosing the most expensive treatments. I feel like the importance of epidemiology and population medicine is a little more front and center when you see large numbers of people who are underserved.”
Because there is so much to learn working locums in new environments, Dr. Lee thinks it would be a good option for physicians fresh out of medical school or for doctors who are retiring that would like to keep up their skills.
“I’m sort of neither but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “It can work for any physician in any stage of their career.”
Choosing locums full-time
After more than 15 years of being a physician, pulmonary/critical care and sleep disorder specialist Dr. Srinivas Bhadriraju decided to work locums full-time, and he’s done it for more than five years now.
“Initially, I enjoyed the idea of being at an academic institution and teaching younger doctors,” he says. “Then I decided to leave academia and do something different with my career, and my options were to either join a private practice group or do something different. At that point I made the conscious decision that I’d like to practice medicine in places where there’s a need.”
Locums was attractive because he was more interested in the clinical aspects of medicine than the business of medicine and the responsibility of running a practice.
“Once I decided locum tenens was a more independent path where you can practice medicine the way you want to and not worry about the business side of things, that’s the path I chose,” he says. “It really allows me to focus on the clinical side of medicine and not worry about the other aspects.”
Finding the right path
“Locums gives you a lot of flexibility to do what you want to do,” Dr. Martino says. “You get to see big hospitals, little hospitals, different types of medical care, different diseases that you see in different parts of the country. There’s a lot of things I like about locums.”
Whether you’re a pulmonologist currently working in a permanent position or are newly out of medical school, locum tenens is a great way to learn new skills, experience new healthcare environments, and explore different parts of the country. And perhaps most important, it will allow you to help patients where your expertise is needed the most.