Practicing While Journeying by Jeep: The Locum Tenens Story of Dr. Kopyev
Imagine embarking on a transatlantic flight when you start to have chest pain. Is it a heart attack? You’re overcome with panic. You try to tell someone, but people keep shaking their heads. They don’t understand your language. You frantically search the crowd. Finally, a kind smile and familiar words. It’s going to be okay.
For many people, their journey to America is both exciting and overwhelming. Thankfully, The International Organization for Migration (IOM), part of the United Nations System, helps Russian immigrants fly to the United States.
Those long plane rides are “all-hands-on-deck” to make sure everyone arrives safely. And they were Dr. Victor Kopyev’s first experience filling a critical medical position. Today, he’s a United States citizen and a practicing locum tenens physician who provides essential hospital coverage across the nation with the help of Interim Physicians (and his Jeep).
Moonlighting in Moscow
Dr. Kopyev grew up in Moscow, Russia, and started medical school at 17, followed by an internship and residency. He chose to work with IOM after seeing their advertisement.
“That was really my first introduction to being a traveling doctor. I worked in an environment like an ICU full time, and then between my shifts, I worked with the IOM to help people safely immigrate from Russia to the US. Most passengers on the plane didn’t speak English well, so we worked double duty as interpreters and doctors to make sure that everyone arrived calmly and had appropriate medical care along the way,” he says.
Dr. Kopyev completed his medical internship at a hospital in Flushing, NY, and his residency at a university hospital in Syracuse. He chose to remain in the US, and fulfilled his J-1 visa commitment by serving in a medically underserved area for five years. In 1998, he moved to Ohio to join Kent University as a physician that provided Medicaid services.
“Then I guess you could say I got stuck out here,” he smiles. “I ended up having a lot of patients who needed me, so I stayed in the area.”
Politics in Private Practice
Over the next 13 years, Dr. Kopyev enjoyed private practice as an internal medicine physician, obtained his green card, and even opened his own practice.
“I’m not the type of person who enjoys staying in one spot. My favorite part was visiting patients in multiple hospitals, seeing several at my office, and visiting others in nursing homes. But then the hospitalist profession gained traction.”
Dr. Kopyev started losing referrals when hospitalists automatically triaged patients to other groups, competition from larger hospital systems, and incentivized insurance physician networks.
“My independent practice just wasn’t sustainable anymore,” he lamented. “And then I got a call from a friend who was about to be fined for not meeting a certain benchmark on generic prescriptions. When I heard that, I decided I didn’t want to be involved in these kinds of hospital politics anymore. That’s not putting the patient first.”
Faced with declining referrals, Dr. Kopyev closed his practice. Throughout his career, recruiters often approached him about working “locum tenens.” He’d always been busy with his practice, but in 2012, he was motivated to check it out.
“At first, I worked with a couple agencies at the same time so that I wouldn’t have any downtime between jobs. But Interim Physicians was outstanding and really took the time to get to know what I wanted. I decided to stick with the company that gave me better jobs and better treatment!”
Politics in Private Practice
Jackie Byrd, Dr. Kopyev’s recruiter at Interim Physicians, was not only invested in his success, but she quickly learned of his affinity for long car rides.
“Jackie offered a great assignment early on, but then I found out I’d have to take a plane. And I have way too many toys for that, I’d never get through security,” he laughs. “Now she knows if I can’t take my Jeep and all my gear, it’s a very hard sell.”
Most of his locum tenens assignments have been all over Ohio, but he also holds medical licenses in West Virginia and Indiana. Traveling by Jeep, Dr. Kopyev can pack up his kayak, bicycle, and various weight training equipment—depending on the season.
“I think about medicine as the most important part of my life, both professionally and personally. A huge component of that is good diet and exercise. So, if I’m at the hospital for a 12-hour shift, I have to find time to get my blood flowing.”
One of Dr. Kopyev's West Virginia assignments had shifts starting at noon, so he made the most of his mornings by kayaking. He would then work his shift and, if time allowed, enjoy a few more runs before heading back to his room. He loves whitewater kayaking for the waterfalls and rapids, but finding nearby rivers can be a challenge. To overcome this, Dr. Kopyev plans assignments around nearby rivers. This geographical challenge drives him to try new things.
“I bought a K1 sprint kayak on Facebook after 40 years of kayaking. The seller warned me I had no idea what I was getting into, but I figured I could handle it. I struggled to push off the shore and capsized after 10 strokes,” Dr. Kopyev chuckled. “It took me 2 years to master it, with plenty of onlookers probably wondering what I was doing, but it's been an exciting hobby during my locum jobs.”
Dr. Kopyev combines work and play, taking assignments based on hospital need and finding ways to enjoy his free time. In the Cleveland area, he’ll take his bicycle to explore trails. And during the winter, he cross trains with kettlebells, stability balls, and other equipment to enhance his balance for kayaking and skiing.
After working locums with Interim for the last 10 years, Dr. Kopyev has spent time working in all different practice environments from rural to giant hospitals. He’s nurtured relationships with hospital leadership, often returning to assignments, but enjoyed Ohio’s smaller community hospitals the most.
“When I travel, I prefer a more personal feel to a hotel,” he says. “Marietta has probably been my favorite assignment. I stayed at the same B&B for about six years when I traveled there, and I always woke up to this fabulous breakfast. The owner never repeated herself the entire time I stayed there!” He continues, “After that, I found a little private cottage that I enjoyed, and the owners would always reach out for my schedule and make sure it was free during my shifts.”
Dr. Kopyev reminisced about his time in Ashtabula, where he stayed at a bed and breakfast right on Lake Erie. Over the years, he cherished the skiing and kayaking trips he took with his daughter during his locum assignments.
“When you work in the same spot all the time, you just don’t get these experiences,” he remarks. “Locums gives you the freedom to move around. It’s been great for my personality. Everyone has a different reason for wanting to practice locums; it’s very personal, but you get to make it your own experience. And there’s the freedom from hospital politics and the knowledge that you’re always putting the patient first.”
The Right Recruiter
One of the most important parts of a great locum experience is having someone in your corner. Thankfully, Dr. Kopyev knows that he can rely on Interim Physicians and his recruiter, Jackie.
“Jackie is very personable and responsive. I know that I can call her any time, and she always texts me back within two minutes. It’s a great relationship,” he says. “Interim is the same way. Whenever I reach out, I know there will be immediate support and communication. The jobs always match the hospital environment, so you always know what you’re getting into. I’ve had a great run for the last 10 years, and I’m looking forward to many more.”
And here at Interim, we’re happy to help Dr. Kopyev continue seeking adventure—putting quite a few more miles on his Jeep along the way.