How Far Must a Doctor Travel to Moonlight?

By Suneel Dhand, MD
September 26, 2018

The growing physician shortage means it’s possible to work near your home on your own time.

Hearing about moonlighting and per diem opportunities might conjure up images of traveling long distances to go to work. You could be driving to some remote part of your state. You could be hopping on a plane to some far-flung part of the country to cover a hospital or clinic for a few days.

That’s how it works, right? Wrong.

How about getting in your car and driving 20 minutes down the road? Or, if you live in a big city, walking to work? It’s possible to moonlight closer to home if that’s what you want.

Currently, there’s a massive physician shortage across the country, especially in the generalist specialties, and it’s getting more massive each year. The shortfall is estimated to be more than 100,000 doctors in the next decade — a staggering number with huge implications for physicians’ work choices. Health care institutions really need doctors, so if you’re smart about it, there are a multitude of options to take advantage of. 

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Traveling far away and having “mini-adventures” is something that tends to suit doctors at the beginning or end of their careers. In other words: those without family commitments or those who’ve completed those responsibilities.

For those desiring to work closer to home, if you live in or near a big urban area, you are likely to have your pick of the bunch within a small radius. 

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Will you have to be flexible? Of course. Must you sacrifice a small amount of pay by working in a nonrural area? Probably. But setting yourself free by not being a regular, full-time employee and beholden to only one place is almost always worth it.

If you do decide that you can do long-distance travel, most hospitals and clinics will reimburse you for all travel and accommodation costs. That’s something that should always be worked into your contract negotiations, assuming you do not go through a locums agency or a third-party recruiter.

Doctors should be as flexible as possible when making any travel decision, because lucrative offers can be game changers. But the ultimate choice on how far you want to voyage is always yours.

Suneel Dhand, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and is based in Massachusetts. He is co-founder of DocsDox, an online service that connects physicians with moonlighting and per diem opportunities. 

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