Life of a Locum: Not a Stranger, Not Quite a Friend

Sometimes, I find myself in an odd ambiguous social space being a locum tenens. From the standpoint of my actual clinical duties, I’m tasked with garnering trust and navigating new social and work circles as an outsider desperately trying to edge my way in. The extent of my involvement and need to be within the circle can vary and in a pinch, the beauty and the bane of being a locum is that all that’s truly asked of me is that I do my job – the social inquisition is completely optional. Afterall, my lifetime is fleeting and I could cover a weekend at a facility and possibly never again. At any moment, we are all aware I could disappear, a distant memory in the wind. Nevertheless, like any other human, I always seek to cultivate connections and relationships with people. Being on good terms and forming strong bridges is always a general positive in life, but finding those you can call friend or family is a necessity for happiness. Yet, as a locum tenens provider, there are many times that I find myself in an awkward and uncomfortable space where I am not a stranger, but not quite a friend.

Over the course of a few recurring jobs spanning several months I’ve listened to my nurses make plans outside of work, or order food delivery, or simply go down to the cafeteria without the whisper of an invitation as they walk past me sitting in my office, despite the hours and hours i’ve spent at the desk and with them taking care of patients. Meanwhile as an outsider looking in, I often have seen “permanent staff,” even the ones that joined after I did, being automatically accepted into the inner circle. It makes sense from the point of social exhaustion: why put your effort and feelings into knowing someone that you know is going to be leaving you? A temporary relationship with a cloudy expiration lends itself to a question on the worth of cultivating it in the first place if all for naught in the end; and, I understand it as I bask in my solitude.

Only in the youth of my career, I have met hundreds of nurses, respiratory therapists, nurse techs, janitors, pharmacists and other team members by the nature of my training and multitude of jobs. I have become close to so many, learning about their families, their lives outside of the hospital and sharing my own life aspirations with them. We have bonded through trauma, through shear hours spent staring at fetal heart tracings or figuring out the best way to help our mutual patients. They know me, who I am and what I stand for. We know that we can trust each other, how to read each others feelings behind the masks, and have become comfortable with each others personalities – they even know when to put me in my place and I am always ready for it. Yet, even after many months at a job, sometimes I am still just referred to as “the locum.” I will never forget when after I had been in Maine for what seemed like an eternity, when I entered a room and my nurse introduced me to a family as “just the locum doctor.” I thought to myself, I suppose I’m not a stranger anymore but… Are my actually even a friend? I spent a long time feeling that one.

And then one day a few months later I distinctly remember when the clock hit 2AM and I was sitting in my office when I got a call from one of my night shift nurses that knows I never sleep, “Trevor, what are you doing? Why aren’t you out here hanging out with us? We wanted to hear about your trip.” It was at that moment that my heart sank as I realized that maybe I had made it beyond being “just the locum doctor.” No longer a stranger, maybe not just a friend, but perhaps… Family.

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