The benefits of moving from locum tenens to a permanent position

The interview went great. Your potential new partners were friendly and eager to show you the best of everything - within the practice, at the hospital, and in the community. You were entertained at fine restaurants. A chatty real estate agent drove you around town while boasting about the quality of the schools, the fabulous amenities in the community, and the great climate. You accept the position and 6 months later realize that the practice is on shaky ground financially, your partners are not highly thought of within the medical community, the school board is more dysfunctional than your cousin Leonard's family, and it has not stopped raining since you arrived. If I had only known, you think to yourself.

It is not uncommon for physicians, particularly young professionals, to take a first job (and even a second or third) only to find themselves disillusioned after a relatively short period of time. The reasons may be specific, or it may simply be that the practice was not a "good fit." Jumping too quickly into a permanent job is an understandable mistake, especially for doctors just out of training who are eager to get settled and start earning a living. But even mid-career physicians can be seduced into positions that turn out to be disappointing.

However, there is an alternative that allows you the opportunity to test out a practice setting before making a firm commitment. Here are some of the benefits of easing into a practice via locum tenens.

Getting to know your colleagues.

Issues like work ethic, reputation in the community, philosophy about patient care, and values about money are best assessed over time. Spending several months in a group can be quite revealing in terms of sizing up the personalities and character traits of potential new colleagues. Of course, this is a two-way street. A locum tenens engagement also gives the group or hospital you are considering an opportunity to evaluate whether you are a good match for them.

Learning about the practice.

How do the authorization, scheduling, and EMR systems work? What is the patient mix? Is there enough well-trained staff in place? Is the practice manager competent? How financially stable is the practice? Is the hospital user friendly? What is the call schedule like? Although these important details may be covered during the interview process, there is still no substitute for first-hand experience.

Understanding the local politics.

There are hot—or at least lukewarm—political issues in any medical group or hospital. This is neither good nor bad, it is merely a fact. Getting a handle on who is aligned with whom and why and uncovering the back story about sensitive situations takes time. While providing locum tenens services, you are in the unique position of being able to stay out of the politics and study it from a safe distance. Once you have seen all the maneuvering and posturing from an observer's point of view, you may indeed decide to sign a permanent contract. But, if you do sign on, you will be entering with a better understanding of the political environment.

Getting to know the community.

It is nearly impossible to take an accurate pulse of a town or city without actually living there. Are the people here genuinely friendly, even to newcomers? Is diversity valued in this town, or is it just given lip service? What are the opportunities for finding friends outside of work? You may find a place of worship that is aligned with your spiritual needs, but how does it feel to attend services there regularly? What is it really like to live in a busy metropolitan area? Or in a town with only one grocery store and two stoplights? By working and living in a community—even for a few months—you can uncover answers to these questions and many more.

There is so much that a physician and his or her family can gain by experiencing a community for 3, 6, or even 12 months before making a commitment. Whether you are fresh out of training or considering a mid-career move, accepting a full-time, permanent position is a big decision—one that calls for discernment and patience. Consider letting a locum tenens placement support you in practicing both.

Views and opinions expressed herein are those of NALTO and not necessarily those of Advanstar Communications Inc. or LocumLife.

About the Author

Karen Childress is a Colorado-based freelance healthcare writer currently crafting a series of articles on behalf of NALTO.

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