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Locuming: The good, bad, ugly, and awesome

The best and worst that the locuming lifestyle has to offer so you can decide whether its right for you

Okay, so you’ve finally figured out that locum tenens is the practice of filling temporary health care positions and not something Harry Potter says when he wants to open a locked door or turn invisible. But is the locuming lifestyle right for you? There are countless pros and cons that might tip that balance if you’re trying to decide, so, to help you out, we’ve compiled an overview of everything good, not-so-good, and awesome about working as a locum physician.

The Good: all of the experience, none of the commitment.

Choosing a practice – or leaving a practice – is a big decision, and one that requires most physicians to take a leap of faith. But not if you’re locuming. Taking a temporary position with a certain practice, in a certain place, is a great way to explore how its run, how you’ll be remunerated, and how much you like the work (and people) before committing to it permanently.  

The Not-So-Good: gotta roll with the punches.

As a locum physician, you’re always the new kid in class. That means you’re always acclimating to new circumstances, learning new workflows and procedures, and getting to know new colleagues and patients. Some people are well-equipped for that kind of lifestyle—others, not so much. Patient care can be especially challenging, since you’ll be familiarizing yourself with patients during almost every visit, and rarely able to provide continuity of care in the following weeks and months.

The Good: maximum flexibility.

Forget vacation requests or burning yourself out—when you’re locuming, you have the liberty to be as busy (or not busy) as you want to be. You’re in full control of your own calendar and your mobility—if you have the freedom to move across the country at a moment’s notice, you can. And even if you’ve settled down and started a family, locuming can be a great way to find the perfect balance between your personal and professional lives.

The Not-So-Good: financial penalties.

Unless you’re focused on rural work, compensation for locum jobs often isn’t as high as more permanent positions. And, depending on what province you practice in, there can be penalties for the type of work you take on (for example: in B.C., locums can’t collect complex care fees unless they’re in a position for more than three months).

The Good: avoid all that administration. 

All that paperwork, planning, and management that you’d have to do as part of a practice—gone! The day-to-day life of a locum doctor is a much simpler affair: you get to focus on patient care and not worry about ordering supplies, attending management meetings, or meeting with your accountants to go over the books. 

The Not-So-Good: …well, maybe not all of the administration.

Did we say that you could avoid all the administration? That might have been a bit of an overstatement. The truth is, there are still a lot of non-care related tasks that you’ll have to undertake: everything from creating and planning your schedule, to negotiating the terms of your position, to the effort that goes into searching for and applying to your next locum position (there are some great websites that can help you with that, though).

The Good: see the world.

One of the things that is most enticing to physicians – especially younger physicians who haven’t started families or put down roots in a specific place – is the opportunity to see and experience different parts of the world. Locum doctors are able to accept positions across the country, and, more often than not, can choose how long or short they stay there. For someone who wants to know how medicine is practiced in different localities – and even in different cultures – locuming offers the chance for a diverse range of professional (and personal) experiences.

The Not-So-Good: the isolation.

Being the new kid in class can be isolating, too. Like every workplace, every practice or clinic has an established social system that has grown over years and decades—and it can be hard to find your place within that system. Sometimes you never do. To survive as a locum, it can be helpful to connect with a network of other locums in your area. Because sometimes the new kids have to stick together. 

The Awesome: making the health care system better for the people who need it most.

Believe it or not, the practice of working locum tenens wasn’t developed merely to accommodate doctors who wanted to see the world and control their calendars—it was born out of a dire need to curtail physician shortages in areas where people weren’t receiving the consistency and quality of care they needed. In Canada, even today, rural areas are underserved, and locum doctors are the backbone of keeping those communities healthy. Locum doctors also provide a vital service to their peers and colleagues, covering them in times of illness, giving them the freedom to take parental leave or continue their education, or simply to give them a break and help them avoid burnout. The truth is, the agility and speed that locum physicians bring to the health care system is invaluable, and if you decide to start locuming, you can take pride in that.