Comparing traditional medical practice to locum tenens work is like comparing the work of a day laborer against that of a self-employed contractor. There is a world of difference between the two. It is a difference significant enough to lead growing numbers of doctors to give up on traditional practice in favor of locum contracting. Indeed, the ranks of locum tenens physicians are steadily growing in the U.S.

An October 2015 piece published by The Hospitalist offers a unique perspective on why locum tenens work is gaining popularity among doctors. The piece, written by Dr. Geeta Arora, details the career path of a hospitalist who started out as an employed physician only to quit medicine, try something else, and then return to medicine via locum tenens work.

Arora’s perspective offers clear insight into the appeal of locum tenens. Suffice it to say she is not the only doctor to have her experience. There are likely many other doctors around the country who have happily traded traditional medical practice for locum tenens work.

The Constraints of Traditional Practice

For the purposes of this post, traditional practice is defined as either operating a private practice or being employed by a hospital, group practice, clinic, etc. These two types of medical employment have long been the dominant forces in medicine. Unfortunately, traditional practice comes with constraints that can interfere with giving patients the best possible care.

Private practice owners are saddled with the responsibilities of operating a small business. They have to manage employees, worry about payroll and taxes, deal with insurance companies, and on and on. So much time is spent on the business side that private practice owners often complain that there is not enough time left for patients. It is a well-known problem we are all familiar with.

Doctors who work as employees face their own set of constraints. They may not be free to practice as they wish due to certain employer requirements. They have to deal with office politics, work at getting along with other staff members, and deal with bosses who have unrealistic expectations.

Both employment models involve plenty of stress as well. More often than not, doctors find that their entire lives are wrapped around their work, their practice or employer being the first priority most of the time. They put in long hours; they miss spending time with their families; they have a difficult time establishing a good work-life balance.

The Freedom of Locum Tenens

Dr. Arora described experiencing the constraints of traditional practice in her piece. She then went on to explain how she found freedom in locum tenens work. Because locum doctors are self-employed contractors, they are their own bosses for the most part. As long as they fulfill their contractual obligations, they are free to control how, when, and where they work.

Arora described how, at the time of her writing, she had already been a hospitalist locum for four years. During that time, she was able to put more effort into pursuing her love of surfing. She traveled around the world for both training and volunteer opportunities. She was able to get more involved in holistic medicine.

The long and short of it is that Arora discovered that locum tenens allows her to practice medicine on her terms. As a result, she is thoroughly convinced she is better able to give patients the quality of care they deserve. Outside the constraints of practice ownership and office politics, she is free to concentrate her work time on patients and her non-work time on herself. Is there a better way?