My First Month as a Traveling Physician

Telling my patients where I’m from has proven to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of my day-to-day interactions at work as a traveling ED physician. It usually generates a lot more questions than answers for them. Opening this conversation leads to a generally mixed response. It’s always the same emotions, surprise and excitement with a dash of curious confusion. It goes a little like this:

Patient: “Did you see the game last night? Ohio State was amazing!”

Me: “Yeah they are great; I’m a Florida Gator fan though.”

Patient: “Oh boy. How did that work? You must be from Florida—no one likes the Gators outside Florida”

Me: “Yeah, I’m from South Florida, but I live in Denver now.”

Patient: “Oh, so when did you move to Ohio?”

Me: “Well, I don’t live here at all, I live in Denver and fly in to work”

Patient: “When? How does that work?! (Daughter chimes in: “Your own plane?”)

Me: “No no.. haha. I fly in for five or six days. Then, I go home for a week or more; then, I come back and do it again.”

Patient: “That’s…that’s…crazy!”

In the beginning it does seem crazy. But then, you get into your patterns and your travel life begins to take its shape and routine. Put simply for those who are curious—I talk to friends and family a few months ahead for dates I need to be off, scour the planet for things I might want to do, and then make my shift blocks for the month or two ahead. I work 12 – 14 shifts a month, anywhere between 4 – 6 shifts per trip.

Over time, the traveling has become as simple as, “10 rows back over the wings, window seat, take a nap, and I’m at work.” I know my flight patterns. I know what time to get to the airport down to the minute. I’m on a first name basis with TSA sometimes. Not that commuting by air to work 1,100 miles is easy every time, but you learn to enjoy the subtle things. I enjoy watching people in the airports. I feel a subtle fresh perspective as I look back at my week off and prepare for the week ahead while at 37,000 feet. In fact, I’m typing this right now at 39,000 feet, just announced overhead. I find it really exciting to finish a block of shifts, scuttle to the airport, and be home at 6 p.m. when my shift ended at 3 p.m. … two time zones away.