2007 was a big year for me, in many ways. Tossed in among the momentous and the mundane was my decision to train for the Wisconsin Ironman, which was in September. In retrospect, there couldn’t have been a more perfect way to stay focused on what it really takes to get what you want and need out of life. So I offer some 20/20 hindsight as you contemplate a small career transition, a professional 360, or the launch of a bold new personal venture—be it into locum tenens or beyond.
On goals: You have to have the “big one” clearly in mind. But to get there you have to break it down into a series of smaller goals. You don’t bike a Century (100 miles) until you’ve competed in your share of 20-milers. In locum tenens, that could mean trying out a temporary assignment during a vacation or leave, without cutting ties to your practice completely. Or committing to a shorter temporary medical assignment to start, knowing that if you speak up early enough, you can almost always extend your stay.
On support: No one does this alone. For an endurance athlete it takes family, coaches, books, videos, bike mechanics, riding buddies, and at least one dog who won’t let you sleep in on long-run days. The good news here is that locum tenens is all about support—from the team that finds and screens opportunities, to the people who match your skills and interests with those openings, to the travel agents who get you there, to the associates who call to collect your timesheets so you get paid accurately. All it takes is great two-way communication and responsiveness.
On organization: Imagine how easy it is to NOT jump into a cold mountain reservoir for a training swim. Interestingly though, I found that it wasn’t a lack of motivation that most often derailed my training plans, but poor planning. Not enough time, competing commitments, personal distractions. Just like throwing an Ironman into the life mix, locum tenens is a little more complicated than working in the same medical practice year in and year out. It’s important to have a plan and to be very organized. Prioritize and attack the highest priority areas first. Get that locum tenens application filled out, bite the bullet and collect the documents, build a relationship with a locums team—so you can take the “plunge” when the time is right.
On flexibility: Things happen. Sometimes you crash. It’s important not to get so tied up in your original plan that you can’t change strategies. The first year I qualified to run the Boston Marathon I injured myself overtraining. I had to step back and reframe my entire plan—what I saw myself achieving and how I would define success. That’s probably the lesson that helped me most in training for the Ironman. And oh, what a tie there is to locums work! I have been recruiting locum tenens doctors for more than 20 years, and so often the first phone call is, “I only want to go to warm places and I’ll only stay two weeks.” Can I tell you how many of these physicians later sent me email from places like La Grande, Oregon and Athens, Wisconsin raving about the place and the people?
On fun: No goal is worth achieving if it’s not fun. I even heard this from the professional Ironman athletes who ran training camps leading up to the race. It’s their job to do this crazy stuff and the best ones earn some good money, but they never lose sight of the fun. Locums can be a little stressful—with travel and unfamiliar housing and orientations to new facilities and protocols. But it can be the positive stress that makes you remember why you went into medicine in the first place. It’s FUN. Colleagues and patients truly appreciate you. You get to learn from and teach people from all across the country, even the world if you choose international locums. And there is almost always someone willing to help you find the best Thai food or a take-your-breath-away trail to run around the lake.
On celebration: Everything clicked on the day of the Ironman. I was stronger than I expected in the 2.4-mile swim, so I got off to a great start on the 112-mile bike. I knew the bike would be my most challenging leg of the race, so the little boost was appreciated. The miles flew by and my energy just kept building. As crazy as it sounds, I was euphoric by the start of the 26.2-mile run. I finished in 15 hours, 4 minutes, placing 37th in my category. I knew everyone at VISTA was tracking my progress online, and some even managed to catch the web video of me crossing the finish line. To me, every stroke, pedal, and stride was a celebration. It will stay with me forever. Here’s hoping that locum tenens is a great option for you, and that you join us and have this kind of delirious pleasure to look back on after a long and satisfying run of it.