By Steve Gordon with contributions from FlexMedStaff

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As a traveling physician doing locum tenens work through agencies and by contracting directly with healthcare facilities, my wife and I keep having adventures and making memories.  But being a nomad or a traveling physician aint easy; you have to learn to live on the road. Here is some traveling advice for other physicians so that they can thrive on the road.

One in five flights will go sideways. Get used to it!

You can’t control the weather, and neither can the airline.  Chances are that the facility you are traveling to knows where you’re coming from and has heard of the delays. Either way, get on the phone and contact the facility to let them know of your delays.

Be prepared in case there is a flight delay. Ensure your backpack or carry-on has clean underwear, socks, toiletries, medications, a computer, a power supply, healthy snacks, and a water bottle.

When travel delays occur, keep a good attitude. A flight delay can be a time for you to kick back and relax. Don’t be afraid to interact with your fellow stranded travelers.  You’d be amazed at what you can learn. Consider packing small games into your carry-on bag. My wife and I are never without a travel-sized Scrabble board.

Personally? I carry yoyos.  Hundreds of departure lounge hours later, I’ve mastered many tricks and started many conversations.

Travel light.

Consider being a minimalist: 3 sets of scrubs, underwear, socks, toiletries, meds, a computer with a power supply, a phone charger, and a spare pair of shoes will all fit in your carry-on.  So will exercise apparel, and everything else can be purchased locally or online. 

Optional: white coats, an outfit for when you can’t stand clinical clothes, raincoat, to name a few

I bring outerwear appropriate for the season and destination.  Arctic Alaska may require a large suitcase, while coastal Texas may not. 

Think about what you are packing! A set of polypropylene long underwear weighs less than a full water bottle and can make a cold ICU tolerable.

Checking luggage will always cost you time.  If you fly a lot, it’s only a matter of time till your bag gets lost or gets put on a different flight. My wife and I managed 12 weeks in New Zealand with a backpack and rollaboard each.

Be selective with your souvenirs and gifts.

If something strikes your fancy, consider taking it home with you.  But ask yourself how long it takes before you send it to the landfill.

Minimize alcohol consumption

It is up to you, but think about this…. After two drinks, people do foolish things and sleep poorly. They lose track of time, and they lose control of their appetite. Consider waiting until you are back at home to enjoy your favorite drink.  

No recreational drugs.

Just stay away from them while working, even where it’s legal.

Exercise regularly.

If you want to look and feel your best and set an example for your colleagues and patients, find a local gym to work out.  If there is no gym, go for a run, walk, or find a bicycle.

Eat healthy and save money.

You need a sustainable approach to food. Eating out is expensive, so take advantage of the facilities that offer free food. Instead of eating out, consider getting to the grocery store to fill your place with healthy foods. If you can find a place to stay with a kitchen or kitchenette, consider making meals with items you can get from the grocery store.

Always try to eat a good breakfast. Consider grabbing cereal and fruit from the hotel, B&B, or hospital. If you have a particular favorite breakfast item or coffee, don’t be afraid to purchase from the grocery store or bring it from home. 

Figure out a way to eat healthy for lunch and dinner.  Grocery store delis are an excellent place to start, and you can also purchase items to make great salads rather than eating out. It’s recommended that you avoid fast food, but nothing wrong with enjoying some of the local cuisines at a food truck or restaurant from time to time.  At some rural sites, especially Indian Health Service installations, you may find a cottage industry selling hospital staffers homemade meals, generally cooked with love and imagination.

Consider making local investments for long-term or recurring gigs.

If you’re someplace long enough or plan to return, you might get your money’s worth out of simple infrastructure investments such as a bicycle, chef’s knife, non-stick cookware, hair dryer, or iron. You could also consider purchasing a fishing rod if fishing is one of your hobbies. If you accumulate too much stuff at the end, instead of throwing it away, consider giving it to local friends you made or donating it to the local thrift store.

Final thoughts

Becoming an expert nomad physician aint easy, but once you spend enough days on the road, you become a professional traveler. I love what I do! I get to travel the country, treating great people while experiencing new places. It’s been fun! I am blessed to share my time on the road with my wife, who makes it even more fun. Hopefully, you can take some advice from this article, and I would also suggest that you ask others what they have done to develop a successful career as a traveling physician. 

***Steven Gordon is a family medicine physician who blogs at, sharing his experiences practicing medicine and traveling with his wife. You can find him at link below.


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