Become a locums doctor and think like a professional athlete

by 911Doc, MD

When our colleagues want to criticize our approach to medicine in the wild, wild west, they call us “cowboys.”

So be it. And guess what? You too can take to the road with your skills and wits only and be paid what you are worth.

Locums companies are now offering me almost twice what I make working for my group to travel, be put up in a nice hotel, and cover the uncovered military ER or the VA “ER.”  Seems to me that rather than go through a locums company that I can just put send out a few letters, offer my services as a hired gun, and cut out the locums company making $50 an hour off my back.

Then again, I am burnt out and leaving and wouldn’t do it for the money, but you guys, especially you medical students and residents, should think seriously about this.

You may have to work out in a group for a couple of years, but after that, after you get your sea legs, why send thousands a dollars a month to your group director or your hospital? Become a traveler, an itinerant doc, a gunslinger. Go stay at the beach on someone else’s dime or go to the mountains the same way. Go make twice as much and when you find an undesirable hospital, walk away and go to the next one.

You may just keep your sanity and be able to retire a lot sooner. Everyone else sees you as a commodity, why not behave accordingly?

Use the logic of the professional athlete. You have an increasingly unique and valuable skill … make your best deal. You only have a few years at it — ten on average (per our own college’s statistics) — so why not protect yourself?

911Doc is an emergency physician who blogs at M.D.O.D.

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  • ninguem

    Well said. Yes you can cut yourself out of the locum agency.

    911 doc said fifty fucks an hour is the agency fee. May be true. One time, I did some work with a locums agency. They told me the pay scale and all that, verbally. Then they sent me their contract.

    Unfortunately for them, they mistakenly sent to me, the contract they normally send to the employing hospital or medical group.

    Oops. What they pay me, double it, that’s what the locums agency charged the employer.

    They were quite embarrassed when I told them which contract they sent me.

  • ninguem

    Speaking of embarrassing, a certain typo needs correction. It really was a medical locums job.

  • BladeDoc

    ER Docs only practice an average of 10 years? What the hell do they do then? Or where are you investing, I want some!

  • http://fertilityfile.com IVF-MD

    While I agree with the crux of your post and I understand that your initial reference to the “wild wild west” was probably just an incidental lead-in, I couldn’t resist putting my 2 cents in to fight the perpetration of the common myth that the so-called wild, wild west was this hotbed of anarchy with cowboys running around shooting each other every day. Understanding the truth in this matter leads to crucial ramifications in modern day economic policy decision. For those wishing to explore this interesting topic more, I would suggest a book published by Stanford University Press entitled “The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier”. Thanks for allowing me to hijack your comments thread :)

  • Jesse

    Don’t forget 911 Doc, every great athelete has an agent. You don’t see LeBron going it alone making calls to teams all over the league shopping himself around. If locums are like pro athletes, they’ll need proper representation to get them the best money, facilities, and to be there when the crap hits the fan.

  • Anna

    Jesse makes a good point. We’d all love to sell our own houses (commission free) and are sometimes lucky enough to do so. But… we also value our time and most us don’t want to spend oodles of time marketing and selling our homes. Locum agencies save us a lot of time and energy but, as is the case with realtors, we pay a price for it. The question is how valuable is your free time and do you want to take care of all of the searching, negotiating, contracting and research the practice? I don’t want to do this but some do it yourselfers will gladly take it on.

  • t

    Note to Anna and Jesse,

    Good points, but I don’t think athletic agents take half your fee (and I know literary agents don’t). When agencies start taking lower percentages, I will consider using one; until then, I will work hard to end their agency, because it is almost always a better deal for me.