Private practice can be an attractive option for physicians who want more control over their schedules, but it’s not the only option. Locum tenens gives you the flexibility to work when and how much you want, while also leaving time for you to cultivate other areas of your life.

Dr. Oneica Poole originally started working locum tenens to give her time to build her own private practice. Once she started, she found that it was a much better fit than her previous job, because it brought her back to her first love— pediatrics— and allowed her time and space to pursue her other passions.

Here’s what Dr. Poole had to say about choosing locums over private practice:

What made you decide to start working as a locums physician?

Originally I wanted to go into private practice. I was looking for something lucrative that would allow me the space and the time and energy to work on starting a private practice as well. That’s why I initially decided to go into locums: to make enough income to allow me to leave my permanent job while still leaving room to build my practice.

At first I was concerned about whether there would be enough locums work to ensure I had consistent income. That was the only thing that made me hesitate at first about leaving my permanent job.

How did those concerns play out when you started practicing as a locums physician? Were you able to find consistent work?

I haven’t had issues securing work at any point. There were times when I had to take on work for a few months that wasn’t necessarily the ideal assignment, but I still always felt like I had options. 

Also, when I did find work, it was pretty lucrative. So I just made sure to be responsible in managing the money that I did earn from the assignments I enjoyed more. That gave me the peace of mind to know that I would still be okay financially, even during those times when I didn’t necessarily have an ideal assignment for a few months. I could still take care of my responsibilities and live the life that I wanted without necessarily having to work consistently. That’s one of the benefits of locums: you don’t always have to be working. 

How did you decide to shift gears to continue with locums instead of starting your own practice? What all went into that decision?

Working locums helped me realize that if I went into private practice, I would have to be working constantly. I’m sure for some people that’s a perfect fit for their lifestyle. But what I’ve learned in the process of doing locums is that it’s a much better fit for me than what I initially envisioned. I found that the flexibility of locums work afforded me the lifestyle that I really wanted, without necessarily having to be committed to working in medicine around the clock. It certainly is allowing me to live the life that I want to live. 

What do you see as the primary advantages of locums versus having your own practice?

Flexibility is definitely one of them. Locums gave me more time to pursue and cultivate other passions. I’ve always been passionate about writing and literature, and now I’m able to do that in addition to practicing medicine. I still consider pediatrics my first love, but now I have all these other ways that I’m able to serve and to be creative.

Apart from the flexibility, locums can also be pretty lucrative. One of the things I recommend is that physicians do their research, so they have the power to negotiate for the value that they’re bringing to the table. 

If you’re comfortable doing that, you can earn a good income with locums. And it takes that pressure off of having to work all the time, which I think is one of the things that contributes to burnout. I’ve seen that burnout with colleagues in hospital based medicine or community practices or private practice. Again, it goes back to the flexibility: in order for them to maintain a certain lifestyle and to afford some of the basic things that they want to be able to afford, they have to work a lot. And if you manage your own practice, there’s more financial responsibility that comes with that.

With locums, you also have to work a lot if you want to earn a lot, but you don’t have to work as much, is what I’ve found. Especially if you’re wise above how you manage and invest.

Do you have any advice for physicians who might be considering a similar decision?

It’s obviously not a one-size-fits-all thing. It depends on what someone is looking for, and what they want to get out of life, and how they want to spend their time. That’s what will determine the best fit for them. For some people, the way to be their best selves might actually be in private practice.

But I would say for someone who is really passionate about medicine and serving in that aspect, but they also have other things that they want the space and time to cultivate, locums is a great way to do that. Private practice involves a lot more responsibility. It’s a good responsibility, but it’s a lot, and it doesn’t afford you a lot of free time to pursue other things.

One thing I would advise anybody who wants to pursue locums is: the relationship makes all the difference. It really goes a long way. 

Things can happen when you’re on an assignment. You could run into issues while you’re traveling, or have a hard time when you’re there. And when you’re able to pick up the phone and reach somebody, and you know that they’re there for you––that they’ll be helpful, and treat you with respect and compassion––it makes a huge difference.

Can you talk more about your relationship with your consultant, and the difference that’s made in your own locums journey?

The consultant I work with at Hayes Locums, Jessica Mitchell, is amazing. She works really hard to try to find assignments that match my preferences and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. In everything I do, I put a lot of emphasis on the relationship. It matters a lot to me. And my relationship with Jessica has been absolutely amazing.

When I have friends who are considering locums, I have a short list of people I recommend them to, and Jessica is right at the top of that list. Because my friends are people that I care about, and I want to make sure that when they work with someone, it’s not just about the money. There are so many different places you can go as a physician and probably make good money, but it’s more important that you know you’re treated well and valued.

To be honest with you, there are times that I pick an assignment where the rates may be a little lower, if it means I’m working with a company like Hayes. When I work with Hayes, I always know that I’m working with somebody who, no matter what happens, will make it easier for me. 

Do any specific examples come to mind?

With one of the places I’ve been working, there have been a lot of issues with canceled flights and getting stuck [because of weather]. And Jessica has always been so gracious about that. There have been times when I’m stuck somewhere, trying to get a hold of the flight company or get set up with a hotel, and she always says, don’t worry, we’ll take care of it. You have enough to worry about. It might seem like a little thing, but it can really be stressful when you’re stuck and having to figure it out for yourself. 

It just seems like every time I work with them, Hayes goes above and beyond.  And that experience, for what it’s worth, is not the same everywhere. So I think that when that happens, it should be applauded and encouraged, because I think that’s the way it ought to be everywhere.

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