Locum Providers and the Footprints Left Behind

“She was only with us for a month, but I remember her, we really liked her. She would always bring donuts and was this tiny little thing! That was a good locum, but not all of them have been…” I listened to my clinic staff tell stories and tales of those that came before me as I scrolled through the last several visits for a patient in clinic, one new Doctor after another; hardly any continuity, which is what most patients and families seek, and unfortunately what most lack in the communities I serve as a Locum provider.

Recently I was privileged enough to be asked to do a brief zoom interview for one of my Locum Tenens agencies to discuss my experience as a Locum Tenens provider, why I do Locums, how it’s affected my life and, the part I find most stimulating to fixate on, if or how I’ve felt like I’ve affected the lives of others. In short, sometimes I don’t know if I do.

Maybe a little distant from the question as it came across my ears, I found myself trying to summarize and interpret months of jumping from one job to another, molding myself to fit new situations and new facilities and trying to be a social and professional chameleon – like many doctors, I’m a bit of a people pleaser, and it’s hard to be rejected or to receive criticism, so the best preemptive strategy is to get them to like you and to work hard. But then I realized, as I have spoken with so many patients and healthcare professionals, that, even if I’ve flittered (what a fun word) by for an ethereal second, sometimes I’m remembered more than I think and that can be a good and a bad thing.

Until recently, the gravity of being a Doctor has been intermittently greatly missed on me, especially in non-acute settings. Until recently, I really didn’t know people remembered my name – it was probably when a Father yelled “Dr. Cabrera” across the aisle at Walmart when I realized that, Oh Shoot, I do make an impact. But, outside of the way that I may affect my patients, outside of the way that I may be the first one to explain something in a way that makes sense to them or that I may be the first Doctor to connect with them on a deeper level than their google searches, I realized that I leave some sort of trail of memories amongst my former coworkers.

I loved medical training. I loved being in Medical School and Residency and bonding with coworkers and families, I loved leaving some sort of chaotic memory. We all want to be remembered, but we can’t always choose if it will be for something good or something bad. I felt honored beyond belief when one of my favorite nurses from my locum job in Huntsville, Texas called to say that they were speaking highly of me, weeks after i left, to the new Pediatric group and wanted to pass my name along to them for future job prospects – I started there as a transient and got to know them well. Simultaneously, I’m sure I am not remembered fondly at some places, and possibly ONE mishap of words or ONE situation that went awry is the sole image that pops into someone’s head when they hear my name. I always just hope I’m not THE WORST thing that’s crossed someone’s path… but, you never really know what kind of memory you’re leaving when you’re leaving it, and what people remember or choose to remember is always fluid.

This is something that’s tricky particularly about working as a temporary traveling Locum Tenens doctor. We may leave a glorious beaming memory and all the happy feelings for some, or the darkest most frustrated criticisms from others, or, if we are but paroxysmal drops into the ocean, we may leave no memory at all.

Overall, I’ve started realizing that every word I say, every action I have, even as minuscule as it may be in my mind, is enough to echo for eternity and can make the difference between, “That was a good locum,” or, “We never want them back.” During my zoom interview, as my thoughts melded together real-time, I was left with one thought for my Recruiters and my Agency, and to paraphrase for any potential Locum providers out there in the abyss: Don’t think just about IF You’re the right fit for a job, or the money, or the gaps to be filled… But think about what will happen AFTER You leave to the patients, to the community and to the coworkers that depend on you.

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