Women locum tenens physicians carve out their own niche
- Young, single women physicians more likely to accept temporary contracts.
- Many women prefer solo or group private practices over large, acute care facilities.
- Pay for women based on services, not gender.
Mary H. Johnson, MD, FAAP, has often found herself returning to past locales throughout her nearly 10 years of locum tenens practice, during which time she has agreed to approximately 40 opportunities. Predominantly accepting contracts through Morrisville, North Carolina-based MEDSTAFF National Medical Staffing, Dr. Johnson adds a little variety to her professional life by alternating between independent contracts she arranges herself and those scheduled by staffing agencies.
"When I accept independent contracts, I have to handle them all by myself in terms of negotiating with the administrators when there are problems with the accommodations or reimbursement. That is why I like going through staffing companies," states Dr. Johnson. "They do the heavy lifting for me."
While she has toyed with the idea of accepting permanent positions from time to time, she cannot seem to give up the freedom the mobile lifestyle supports. "I enjoy moving from practice to practice and situation to situation."
The pediatrician with 14 years of experience holds two state licenses, and applies her clinical skills in a variety of arenas, including the emergency department. "Pediatrics was the only thing I was meant to do. I thought I wanted to go into obstetrics, but I found myself wanting to follow the sick babies into the nursery. Although I like practicing pediatric emergency medicine, I am not willing to commit solely to that subspecialty. The good news is that with locum tenens, I do not have to choose one practice area for the long term."
This is actually Dr. Johnson's second go at the mobile lifestyle. She agreed to a handful of contracts her first year out of residency. "I did not know what I wanted professionally, and providing locum tenens services was the best thing I ever did. If you do not want to commit to a permanent position, this practice alternative is a great way to figure things out."
Like so many other young locum tenens physicians, however, Dr. Johnson eventually accepted a full-time position in her hometown in the Southeast. "The experience, with a corporate medical organization, did not end on a positive note, and I subsequently was forced to litigate. But that took 3 years. In the interim, thanks to locum tenens, I was able to keep providing care, something I dearly love. Locum tenens kept me moving forward and kept me grounded in the midst of a situation that can be very isolating and demoralizing. When the legal dance was all said and done, technically, I won, but I did not really win. Now, if I find myself in a situation that I do not really gel with, I have the reassurance that it is temporary. At the end of a contract, I can leave.
"If it is a positive experience," she continues, "I extend, renew, or move on with fond memories (and the door open to come back)."
That is not to say that Dr. Johnson has not committed fully to her contracts. "I tend to take long-term opportunities that last 5 to 6 months, and I have practiced as long as a year in some places. I like to stay close to my friends and be within a reasonable driving distance of the home I own. When I have at least a weekend or two off, I will go home. Sometimes, though, that is not possible."
When she is away, Dr. Johnson finds companionship in her two cats, T.J. and Sabine, who accompany her everywhere. In fact, the physician found T.J. while on the road. "Actually, he found me," she explains. "The first thing he did was jump into the front passenger seat of my car and cross his paws like he belonged there."
Throughout her experiences, Dr. Johnson has encountered other locum tenens physicians, if not on the job, then in passing between opportunities. While the majority of her peers have been men, she acknowledges that the lifestyle has a lot to offer female physicians.
"What is really fantastic about locum tenens is that I have made friends all over," she explains. "You get to see new communities and practice medicine differently. My skills definitely do not get rusty by providing care in various facilities."
Still, she advises all locum tenens physicians to approach opportunities with an open mind. "You have to be adaptable and follow the protocols already established," suggests Dr. Johnson. "During the first few days of an opportunity, I like to talk with the staff to build a rapport with them. And, even more important, do not ignore the little things or make assumptions. Little things can develop into big things."