Meet Dr. Deepika Singh, a USACS Traveling “Firefighter” and a Mom

It’s the most counter-intuitive thing you could possibly expect to hear from a physician whose job is to travel, but it’s true: Dr. Deepika Singh spends more time with her family, and more quality time, than when she worked locally at only one site.

Now an Assistant Medical Director with US Acute Care Solutions (USACS), Singh has made permanent an arrangement she initially thought would be temporary. “I decided to become a Firefighter for a year and after that our plan was to move back to a local place and I’d keep being a local doc,” she said.

Singh is part of a group of traveling emergency physicians known as Firefighters. Rather than rely on locums when there are unmet staffing needs, these physicians bring with them USACS training, culture and trademark camaraderie wherever they go.

The surprising thing is that since taking the job, Singh says she spends more time overall, and importantly more quality time with her two young kids, a 4-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy.

Singh came to work for USACS directly out of residency at one of its sites in Connecticut. After three years, her husband got a one-year position in Rochester, NY, and they decided to move. Rather than look for a job locally, Singh said she loved the USACS culture so much that she decided her best option was to take a temporary position on the Firefighter team.

She decided to travel despite being pregnant at the time. Not only was she about to give birth to her daughter, she also had a one-and-a-half-year-old at home. “I ended up just loving the whole vibe of the group.  They clearly cared about me as a person; not just as a physician.  I wanted to stay with them even if that meant traveling,” she said.

Amazingly, within a few months of the change, Singh found her lifestyle had dramatically changed for the better. When she was a local doc, her schedule was more unpredictable, and usually consisted of shifts interspersed throughout the week. The problem is that she would often return home exhausted after long overnight shifts. Either her kids wouldn’t be home, or if they were, she would be catching up on sleep.

In stark contrast, now Singh works 4 or 5 days in a row somewhere away from home, and then returns for sometimes nearly three weeks of total freedom. “I can sleep like a normal person, eat dinner at a normal time with my family. Your circadian rhythm can just be normal,” Singh said. “When I come home the quality time is really quality.”

Whereas in her previous position it was rare, if not impossible, to get three days in a row off, now she has weeks at a time with no shifts: “Instead of trying to cram in everything a parent does before going back to work, I can sleep in, work out and spend time with the kids. It’s like I’m a stay-at-home-mom for those days.”

At USACS, the current requirements for being a Firefighter are pretty straightforward, and Singh said they weren’t a problem for her:

  • A minimum of 108 hours a month (same as for local docs)
  • Work two weekends a month (or 2.5 weekends on a 5-weekend month)
  • Work either Thanksgiving or Christmas (including the Eve’s)
  • If you fly somewhere, work a minimum of four days in a row

“Outside of those requirements you have total control over your shifts. The flexibility is amazing,” she said.

Firefighters are usually assigned to the same place for a few months, or even longer, so they aren’t bouncing around to a different hospital every time they work. In that way, when Singh walks into an emergency department, she knows most of the people. She’s not constantly learning new systems or dealing with foreign environments. “The culture is already there in the ED, and within the hospital.”

Singh has now been a Firefighter for four years, and she and her family are thinking about making Rochester – what was supposed to have been a one-year pit stop – their permanent home, and Firefighting her permanent job.