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Physician moonlighting doesn’t mean major travel burdens

Medical Economics JournalJanuary 10, 2019 edition
Volume 96
Issue 1

Many doctors think leaving full-time employment equates to arduous travel, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions expressed here are that of the authors and not UBM / Medical Economics.

Hearing about moonlighting and per-diem opportunities may frequently conjure up images of traveling long distances to go to work. You could be driving to some remote part of your state. You could be hopping on a plane to some far-flung part of the country to cover a hospital or clinic for a few days. That’s how it works, right? Wrong.

How about getting in your car and driving 20 minutes down the road? Or if you live in a big city, walking to work? Yes, it’s very possible to moonlight closer to home if that’s what you want. The great thing about working in this way, is that it’s very much all on you. Currently, there’s a massive physician shortage across the country, especially in the generalist specialties. This is only getting worse with each passing year, and the shortfall is estimated to be over 100,000 doctors in the next decade. That’s a staggering number and obviously has huge implications for physicians’ work choices. Healthcare institutions really need you. So if you are a smart about it, there are a multitude of options to take advantage of this supply-demand mismatch. 

The benefits for physicians are immense. The healthcare landscape and practice environment for doctors is changing at a breathtaking pace, and this is unfortunately reflected in soaring burnout and job dissatisfaction statistics (topping 50 percent overall and climbing for all physicians, according to various reports). Breaking free from the administrative and bureaucratic headaches of regular full-time employment with a sole employer is one way to break the cycle and regain a bit of control and autonomy over your schedule.

I have found that traveling far away and having “mini-adventures” was something that initially tended to suit doctors at the beginning or end of their careers. In other words, those without family commitments, or those who’ve completed those responsibilities. This has, however, changed over the last couple of years, and now doctors at all stages of their career are taking the leap.

For those desiring to work closer to home, if you live in or near a big urban area, you will likely have your pick of the bunch within a small radius. Will you have to be a bit flexible? Of course. Will you perhaps sacrifice a small amount of pay by working in a non-rural area? Probably. But it’s important to remember that setting yourself free by not being beholden to only one place is always worth it, if you do this in a way that returns freedom and independence to your work life.

If you do decide that you can handle long-distance travel, most hospitals and clinics will reimburse you for all travel and accommodation costs. That’s something that should always be worked into your contract negotiations, assuming you make the choice to not go through a locums agency or third-party recruiter.

When you are weighing up your options, always consider the pros and cons of every opportunity, and how your work life will pan out logistically and practically. This will depend on a number of individual factors.

I always advise doctors to be as flexible as possible when making any travel decision, because great lucrative offers can be a game-changer. But the ultimate choice on how far you want to voyage is always yours. 


Suneel Dhand, MD, is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the cofounder at DocsDox (www.DocsDox.com), a service that helps physicians find local moonlighting and per diem opportunities, bypassing the middleman. Hear him talking about these issues in a recent presentation.

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