The path to finding the ideal career can be a winding one, and Dr. Guo knows this very well. He started his education in computer science before heading to medical school. While there, he was referred to VISTA by a friend who’s done locum tenens work with us in the past. But it wasn’t until he received a few emails from a dedicated VISTA recruiter that he finally started down the path to locum tenens.
Dr. Guo, a former VISTA hospitalist, offers this advice based on his locum tenens experience: "During the time I'm working, I start to plan for my next assignment to minimize unwanted gaps between contracts. It helps to have one or more sites that have an ongoing flexible need without minimum monthly commitments." Dr. Guo kept in touch with our recruiters for three years before finishing his residency program in 2016. Over the years, he’s found locum tenens work through VISTA in California, Oregon and Minnesota.
Keep reading to learn more about Dr. Guo’s experience in his own words.
What sparked your serious interest and consideration in locum tenens?
I was first exposed to the possibility from a mentor in medical school who did LT (locum tenens). She pointed me to VISTA as the agency she used. It was then natural for me, at the beginning of my last year of residency, to contact VISTA and start planning my first assignment.
How was your transition into the locum tenens lifestyle right out of your residency? What tips would you provide others interested in locum tenens?
It was easy thanks to VISTA. I started the application process early, in January/February of my graduating year, and I would recommend that to everyone going through the process. There are a lot of initial forms to complete so give yourself ample time. Other things like contacting various sites and getting a few state licenses can take time as well.
Did you have to get any further certifications to become a locum tenens provider? What was that process like?
I came in with BLS/ACLS, ABIM board certification and enough procedures under my belt to qualify, all of which was quite handy in making me an attractive candidate to LT sites. Aside from that, I had my home state medical license. Through VISTA, I secured other state licenses as well, which was quite easy under their direction. But it will probably take 1-3 months depending on the state in question.
What is your favorite part about locum tenens work? What is your least favorite part?
My favorite part is definitely the flexibility of working whenever you want and however many shifts you want. Being able to go to urban, suburban and rural critical access sites keeps my skills sharp. I've literally seen it all! My least favorite part is credentialing anew for each new site and going through EMR training and orientation.
Would you recommend VISTA and why?
VISTA in particular stands above other agencies for providing attentive service and thoroughly investigating sites to make sure the work situation is reasonable and that everyone who goes there is happy.
As a multi-state locum tenens provider, do you think participating in locum tenens assignments gave you insights into where you wanted to live or work permanently?
Yes. I was able to get a sense of how medical practice varies by area and by location. The system also matters - hospital owned groups, HMO groups, and multi-specialty groups all use locums, and getting a taste for each practice style is perhaps even more important than the location.
What has surprised you the most about yourself during each locum tenens assignment? And how have these assignments impacted your family?
The practice of medicine is largely the same. What changes the most between sites is the expectation of how detailed the EMR documentation is. The"feel" of the group is also different. Some groups are very close knit with lively banter and jokes flying around, while others have a workroom that feels more like a library.
As for my family, LT is manageable for a new grad without many spouse and children commitments. I can also see it working out for an established physician with a non-working spouse and kids who are grown. In any case, the family situation is probably why most people stop doing locum tenens, but I've definitely seen other situations where it has worked. You just have to be careful about spending your off days with your family.
Which are your favorite states, towns, or regions to work in? Why?
They've all been good in their own way. I pick sites in advance and plan for things to do when I'm there. In urban locations, I can see the sights and go to nice restaurants. In rural areas, you have proximity to nature and the amenities that come with that.
My personal preference is for work in the West Coast and upper Midwest. I've found that to be the best balance of collegiality, manageable workload and compensation.
If you could do it all over again, would you?
Would you recommend others to locum tenens?
Locum tenens works well if you have a definite time gap, such as applying for fellowship where it doesn't make as much sense to take a full-time job that you know you'll leave after a year. It's also suitable if you're waiting for a spouse to finish grad school (as was my case) or if you're trying to get a feel for different practice locations before settling down. I can also see it working well at the tail end of a career where you're winding down and looking for flexibility and maximum control over your schedule, and perhaps with some interest in exploring other parts of the country.
What’s the best advice for a first-time locum tenens provider starting a new assignment?
Plan in advance. When looking for a site, the most important thing for me is EMR (electronic medical record). I want it to be something I'm already familiar with as this will affect my productivity more than anything. After that I look at location. Somewhere close to a major airport is important to minimize commute time and the chance of delays.
During the time I'm working, I start to plan for my next assignment to minimize unwanted gaps between contracts. It helps to have one or more sites that have an ongoing flexible need without minimum monthly commitments. I can modulate the number of shifts I take based on how busy I am.
What questions would you recommend a physician considering LT be sure to ask the staffing/recruiting agency?
Regarding the agency, you always want to plan for contingencies. What are their policies if the site doesn't live up to what your expectations are? How experienced are the staff and how will they guide you through the process of credentialing and applying for sites? What insights can they give you regarding each particular site and its reputation? An experienced agency will have detailed knowledge of the on-the-ground situation.
Inspired by Dr. Guo’s journey? Locum tenens can help you find the location, facility or specialty that best fits your passion and goals. Contact us today if you’d like to talk with a recruiter, or peruse our job board to start your search now.