Locum Tenens Abroad: 5 Things to Think about Before You Go

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Locum tenens physicians have the opportunity to combine a love of travel with a passion for medicine. It is a great combination for clinicians who cannot see themselves practicing in a single office for the entirety of their careers. Some locums maximize their travel opportunities by taking assignments abroad.

The thing about locum tenens abroad is that it is not necessarily as straightforward as practicing in the States. Here, there’s a certain amount of commonality with every assignment. Multi-state licensing is a lot easier than it used to be, staffing agencies go out of their way to match the doctors with appropriate assignments, and both medical knowledge and technology are found in abundance. Things are entirely different elsewhere.

Here are five things to think about before taking your locum tenens career abroad:

1. Potential Cultural Conflicts

You may not think much about culture practicing medicine in this country. After all, you are familiar with the way things work in the U.S. But do not make the mistake of assuming you will fit into the culture of an overseas destination without any effort on your part. That may not be the case.

Let’s say you were considering an assignment in Tanzania. Did you know that albinism in Tanzania is seen as the product of demons or evil spirits rather than a medical condition? Did you know that local witch doctors believe that limbs taken from albinos are valuable for their own remedies?

There is a culture in Tanzania that will affect how you practice. Taking an assignment there would certainly imply you have some research to do. It’s important that you are fully prepared for the culture before you leave home.

2. Housing Supply

We are used to suburban neighborhoods with sprawling yards and single-family houses. Yet there are many parts of the world where suburbia doesn’t exist. People live either in cramped city housing or in rather small dwellings out in the country. If you are particular about your housing, it would be wise to check out the local housing supply before you accept an assignment.

3. Language Barriers

Plenty of locums take overseas assignments that place them in countries where English is not normally spoken. This presents definite language barriers that could inhibit care. The good news is that doctors can usually learn basic words and phrases to get by for the most part. When necessary, translators are usually available to step in.

4. Daily Working Conditions

The U.S. is somewhat unique in terms of our hospitals and clinics. Even the least equipped clinic in our poorest neighborhood is far superior to the best hospital in some countries. You need to be prepared for that. Also keep in mind that the healthcare environment in some overseas locations is rather chaotic. A lack of structure and order in some places can make working in a U.S. emergency department seem like a Sunday picnic.

5. Helping the Underprivileged

The first four items on our list dealt with things you need to be wary of. The fifth is something you might already be willing to embrace: the opportunity to help underprivileged patients. Though we don’t have the statistics to prove it, we would bet that one of the primary motivators for taking locum tenens overseas is a genuine desire to help those in need.

There is a lot to love about working abroad. Just realize that your experience in another country is likely to be far different from anything you’ve experienced here. As long as you’re prepared, there’s no reason practicing abroad can’t be everything you hope it will be.

Arthur Bessie

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