If you are a doctor, what do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘locum tenens‘? A lot of doctors think about jet-setting from city to city to work in urban hospitals or group practices in desperate need of temporary help. That’s certainly part of the locum game, but locum tenens work goes a lot further than that.
There are two kinds of opportunities every locum should try at least once: rural and overseas assignments. Like a volunteer going on his or her first missionary trip to build schools and hospitals, taking rural and overseas assignments can completely change a clinician’s view of both medicine and locum tenens.
Recruiters can testify that there are locums who take a rural or overseas assignment only to make such contracts a lifelong calling. They never go back to the urban world because their new way of practicing medicine is what they’ve been looking for all along. Others try rural and overseas assignments and realize such assignments are not right for them. That’s okay too. But doctors should at least try ‘everything on the menu’ before they dismiss rural and overseas work.
Locums and Rural Medicine
The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) estimates that the ratio of patients to primary care physicians in rural areas is 39.8 doctors for every 100,000 patients, as compared to a rate of 53.3 per 100,000 in metropolitan areas. That is quite a difference. It should be no surprise that locum tenens doctors play a greater role in rural areas due to the shortage of permanent placement doctors.
So why should every locum try at least one rural assignment? Because working in rural America is vastly different from working in the big city. First and foremost, doctors providing primary care in a rural setting have to rely more on themselves because they just don’t have full medical teams to consult with. Working in a rural environment can truly stretch the doctor to new heights.
Rural medicine also gives doctors an opportunity to work with multiple generations of the same family. It gives locums an opportunity to see medicine in a different way, through the eyes of people who, quite often, live a rugged existence where sickness and injury are all in a day’s work. This kind of practice can truly change a doctor’s perspective.
Locums and Overseas Medicine
An even stranger environment for American doctors is found going overseas to work. For example, a locum may accept a month-long assignment providing emergency medicine in Liberia. Another may accept a three-month assignment at a surgical hospital in Bangladesh.
So why should every locum take at least one overseas assignment? Because overseas medicine quickly opens the doctor’s eyes to the reality that healthcare does not begin and end on America’s shores. We complain a lot about our healthcare system, but the truth is that healthcare in many other countries is comparatively primitive.
Spending some time overseas makes it clear that America’s doctors have less to complain about than they think. It’s the old ‘grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ thing. Moreover, having to improvise in a more primitive setting helps doctors understand there are lots of ways to do things. They return to the States with the knowledge that the ‘way we’ve always done things’ is not necessarily the only way.
One of the best things about working as a locum tenens doctor is the ability to practice medicine in different ways. Few things qualify like a rural and overseas assignments. You want different? Try taking a couple of assignments outside of urban America.