The Locum Tenens Journey of Dr. Bens-Clare: The Daughter of a Nurse Who Wound Up in Emergency Medicine after Working at the CDC
Medical providers often pass their career paths down the family tree. As the daughter of a nurse, Dr. Michelle Bens-Clare admired her mom's higher calling to help people. When she was only six years old, Dr. Bens-Clare knew she’d follow in her footsteps. Her career in medicine was inevitable, but the route she took was much less traveled.
Six-year-old Michelle had no idea that her medical journey would begin by working as a parasitologist. The other thing that six-year-old Michelle didn’t know? After she trailblazed her unique career in medicine, she would start working with Interim Physicians to provide essential medical care across various hospitals in South Carolina and the Midwest. (And she’s experienced quite a few adventures along the way.)
From Epidemiology to the ER
After her early introduction to medicine, Dr. Bens-Clare attended college and graduate school before accepting a job at the CDC as an epidemiologist. She knew she needed a doctorate or a medical degree to advance, so she opted for the latter.
Once she finished medical school, she planned to return to the CDC and continue to develop her career in parasitology. But then she completed her first rotation in emergency medicine, and there was no turning back.
“I just fell in love with the ER,” she beamed. “You have so many opportunities to make a positive impact on people from different backgrounds and locations. That’s why emergency medicine is so rewarding. I love the variety, and that really ties into why I grew to enjoy locums so much.”
A Lifechanging Referral
Upon establishing her medical career as a DO, Dr. Bens-Clare worked countless shifts with a good friend at a Charleston, South Carolina, hospital. Historically, DOs choose to enter family medicine, so they were some of the first DOs to practice emergency medicine in South Carolina. With such unique backgrounds, they naturally gravitated toward each other.
As their working relationship strengthened, Dr. Bens-Clare discovered that her friend occasionally picked up extra shifts at other hospitals to fill in for their docs, practicing locum tenens (and he just so happened to find those shifts by working with Interim Physicians). For some extra cash, her friend recommended that she try moonlighting at local hospitals.
After a brief spell, she enjoyed the shifts so much that she decided to work with Interim on a more regular basis. Today, Dr. Bens-Clare works a few shifts at her local ER, and supplements the rest of her time by accepting locum tenens assignments with Interim.
As she reflects on what she’s enjoyed most about the last decade, she emphasizes the practice alternative’s flexibility.
“Locum tenens is all about freedom,” says Dr. Bens-Clare. “My husband is an Internist, and we have three boys. I really want to be there for them, whether it’s baseball, tennis, or just watching them grow and spending time with them. I’ll look at our schedule, and I’ll figure out when I’m free and want to work. Then, I just call Joey (that would be her Interim recruiter, Joey Bradshaw). My internist husband is always surprised by how easy it is.”
Dr. Bens-Clare has a favorite assignment in Michigan, conveniently close to her family. For years, she’s chosen to work during Thanksgiving week (and a half-day on Thanksgiving Day). Not only does she save on her personal travel expenses, but she covers a facility during a busy holiday and makes it home to enjoy dinner with the entire family.
“There’s something about putting your own name down for holiday shift. Emotionally, it keeps me from feeling burned out or overworked because I consciously signed up for it,” Dr. Bens-Clare notes. Not to mention, working select holidays helps her supplement income and save for her family’s annual vacation.
“For the last 30 years, my entire family takes a week in June to visit Bacon Island in Michigan—the island has horses and bicycles without cars, which is such a cool snapshot in time. It’s our tradition, so with locums, I can set aside some extra money for it, and I never have to worry about getting that week off!”
Adventures in Locums
In addition to a flexible schedule, locum tenens allows Dr. Bens-Clare to experience a variety of caseloads and practice environments. Although the assignments near her home in South Carolina are convenient, she loves revisiting her roots in the Midwest; she often picks up shifts across Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri.
Since emergency medicine requires resource management, Dr. Bens-Clare stresses how important it is to learn how that applies in different practice settings. For example, a 28-week pregnant woman who arrives in labor at an urban facility is no big deal: call OB. At a rural facility, the staff doesn’t have OB to deliver the baby, and they don’t often have a pediatrician to take care of the newborn. It’s all on EM.
She recalls one particularly challenging case in the Midwest where a patient couldn’t be transported due to a massive snowstorm. “We had to keep him alive in the ER for three days, and it was really stressful,” she recalls. “I used every trick I knew in the book… and some tricks I didn’t know."
“It’s great to go back home and know that I’m making an impact there, too. I can work at an inner-city hospital in St. Louis, or I can fill crucial shifts at a rural practice; I can go from being a single doc on 24-hour shifts to being part of a booming Level I Trauma Center. And that’s so cool.”
Dr. Bens-Clare explained that EMS stayed to help stabilize the patient and that nurses from the ICU came down to help. “It was incredible collaboration that wouldn’t have happened in a regular ER because the patient would have just been transferred. But we all worked hard, we all learned new techniques, and we saved his life.”
And to top it off, they were snowed in. The assisted living facility across the parking lot offered shelter for the docs after their shifts (and freshly baked cookies, which she claims were amazing).
“That’s the locum experience,” Dr. Bens-Clare points out. “Sometimes you have to be willing to wheel your suitcase across the parking lot and stay in an assisted living facility when it’s snowing an inch an hour!” She continues, “But these are the kinds of stories I’ve collected along my journey, and since I’m an adventurer, I love every second of it.”
More than a Recruiter, More than a Placement
Although Dr. Bens-Clare previously worked with nearly a half-dozen locum agencies, there’s a reason she’s worked exclusively with Interim Physicians for the past decade—and his name is Joey Bradshaw.
Whether you’re winding down in your career, looking for an opportunity to explore different parts of the world, or you’re burned out and want to take it down a notch while still doing what you love, locum tenens is a great solution.
“Locums lets you prolong your career by picking different facilities with less acuity, less volume, or maybe different shift times that are better because you’ll see half as many patients. It’s a good way to create variety in your life and stay in medicine longer,” says Dr. Bens-Clare.
Even though we may be biased, we tend to agree. When you add up all the benefits — and sprinkle in a proclivity for trailblazing like our friend here — locums gives you limitless potential.