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How to become a traveling medical professional

Have med creds? Go travel.

The rise of the digital nomad has filled our Instagram feeds with smiling, tanned beach bodies balancing a laptop on one knee and a drink on the other. But not everyone who wants a change of scenery, an adventure, or a chance to experience a different way of life is a remote IT professional or social media marketer. Here are five medical professionals who found a way to take their skills on the road and how you can do it too.

Patricia Carrick of Montana – Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)

Patricia is a Family Nurse Practitioner who made the decision to take on intermittent assignments with MSF later in life. She has worked on clinic and hospital-based projects in Malawi, South Sudan and Sierra Leone.

MSF is an extremely well-known humanitarian and medical assistance organization that brings medical personnel to emergency and chronic situations in remote and developing regions around the world. It recruits medical and non-medical staff, including a wide range of medical professionals with at least two years’ work experience, for missions that typically last 6-12 months; they offer a minimal salary. The ability to speak multiple languages is an asset. These meaningful positions are relatively accessible, but require willingness to work hard in adverse conditions.

Mark Green of Tennessee – Military Service

Now a US Senator and businessman, as well as a medical professional, Mark Green of Tennessee is a West Point graduate and served five years before becoming an Army special operations flight surgeon. Based out of Tennessee, he flew missions to the Middle East.

Educated medical professionals can enter the United States Army as officers and practice in their specialties. While postings are not guaranteed, there is the potential for longer term travel with paid living costs to relocate to new areas, as well as good vacation and travel benefits. For hopeful or in-progress medical students, the army offers strong financial and practical support. That option offers less flexibility in location, but more financial benefits than most.

Ambereen Sleemi of New York – Teaching/Training

Ambereen is a urogynecologist who set up a partnership in Haiti to train Haitian doctors. She self-funded the project, which she says is common for smaller programs.

Teaching or training overseas is a great way to pair your medical skills with travel, but the organization you travel with will likely determine the level of funding (or not) available. Larger, more established groups may provide some compensation, and of course, traditional academic institutions may be willing to bring you in if you have something in-demand to offer, but in smaller cases these trips are often more humanitarian and volunteer-based. Comparisons have been drawn to a medical Peace Corps.

Janice Boughton of Idaho – Locum Tenens

Janice Boughton is a primary care internist who started traveling with a locum tenens agency. She worked in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska in a single year.

Locum tenens agencies find temporary jobs for medical professionals who want to travel or take shorter term work in practices or hospitals. The term can also be used to describe practice trading, where two doctors swap places for a period of time. All applicable laws must be taken into account, including licensing restrictions, so this is a great way to travel within the country or to other countries where your medical license is accepted and make money while enjoying a new area. The agency-arranged placements are extremely expensive for employers, and so tend toward shorter periods of time, while a swap can be based on mutually agreed-upon terms.

Grady Snyder of Colorado – Just Get Hired

Grady left family practice in small town America out of frustration with the system. He explored Locum tenens placements, but ultimately found work in rural Australia through a specialized employment placement agency.

Your medical training and experience is valid in many places, and simply taking a job in another city or country is often an option if you’re interested in longer-term travel. Particularly if you’re willing to follow demand and head to countries or regions currently experiencing a shortage in your specialty, simply applying or working with an agency to find opportunities can net you an extended paid travel experience.

There’s a wide range of travel options available to medical professionals – arguably more than in most professions. The right fit for you will take into account your experience and area of practice, your expectations around compensation and duration, and the range of validity of your license. Partnering with an organization or agency can smooth the process, but tends to come with more limitations, while striking out on your own opens the door wide, but comes with more challenges. Whether you’re looking for some time in the sun, to explore new cultures and regions, or to make a difference in the world, there’s an opportunity out there for you.

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