The Locum Lifestyle

In my business, I receive telephone calls every week from dentists who are seeking a change in their career. Many say they still enjoy dentistry, yet the day-to-day management is no longer a challenge, and in some instances it’s become a psychological burden.

The first question they ask is “Should I hire an associate to relieve the patient load and/or stress?” My answer is always “Absolutely not,” because associates rarely assume management duties and usually only add to the stress level. So how do you reduce responsibility and continue to practice dentistry? I suggest you consider the “Locum Lifestyle.”

There are several companies that specialize in arranging for established and capable dentists to attend a practice in times of need, such as holidays, a leave of absence, maternity and sabbaticals. This service offers dentists a new opportunity. You can now sell your practice and continue to practice dentistry in other locations, giving you both freedom from the daily hassles and continuing income – two highly sought-after objectives. It is for this reason that I believe the locum service will grow rapidly.

So, how can you accomplish this?

First, consider the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT). Dr. Jim Shosenberg wrote about this in the June 2000 issue of Ontario Dentist. Basically, the AIT will make it easier for dentists to practise anywhere in Canada. There may be a few conditions attached, but they are sure to be far less restrictive than those in the present system. With the enhanced freedom to travel coast-to-coast and perform dentistry, your options for work and lifestyle choices will definitely increase.

Second, think about the growing trend towards the use of a professional locum tenens, and you have the best of both worlds. In our dealings, we find that many dentists must operate their practice for many more years than previously, and that selling is not always an option. As well, many dentists fear leaving a younger, less-experienced dentist in their practice while they are absent, yet they still need to take a break from work. Another concern is shutting down for weeks on end, while the overhead eats up your savings or line of credit. Furthermore, you may return from holidays to find emergencies went untreated, or that your patients have made arrangements with another dentist.

Why would you want to be a locum? In two words: lifestyle and freedom. Other issues are the ability to travel, visit with colleagues in other regions, earn an income, and remain anonymous in the community in which you are practising.

Dr. John Wilson of Whistler, B.C., reports that becoming a locum has changed his life. He has now worked in over 15 different dental offices and has thoroughly enjoyed meeting the new patients, staff and people of the community each time. He receives his cheque at the end of each week and agrees to stay only for as long as he wants. In most instances he works full-time for two or three weeks, then goes home.

John also admits that his anonymity in the community comes as a relief when compared to his days of always being the “dentist about town.” For example, he no longer has patients chasing him down in the bank, grocery store and movie theatre to discuss their dental problems.

However, there are setbacks to the “Locum Lifestyle” as is the case with any career choice. An obvious one is reduced income. Most locums earn between $2,000 and $3,000 per week, certainly much less than the dentist incomes I regularly see through my business dealings.

Another concern is the various and unfamiliar equipment you are required to work with, although this is typically mitigated quickly, as the staff will be there to guide you through office policies and procedures. You will also find that the dental supplies and hand instruments you are accustomed to may not be readily available.

I have to say though, from what I’ve heard, many locums love their choice and would never go back to ownership. But be prepared when contacting a locum tenens for an interview; they could be in some far away dental office having fun, so they may not call you back right away!

I am certain you will be hearing a lot about the Locum Lifestyle in the future, simply because it offers the best of both worlds to those who seek adventure and a stress-free life.

Ontario Dentist – December 2000