Dr. Darwin Eton and locum tenens: A perfect Fit
Updated: Jan 20
Yesterday, I had the privilege to interview Darwin Eton MD FACS DFSVS, a vascular surgeon who now works locum tenens. A former professor of vascular surgery, Dr. Eton “retired,” only to find himself drawn back to clinical practice. Locum tenens made it possible for him to start a biotech company while continuing to operate, and to mentor young physicians. Here is the transcript, which has been edited for clarity:
AW: Welcome, I am Dr. Andrew Wilner, author of The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens. Today is January 17, 2020. I'm here in the Doctors’ Lounge at Regional One Medical Center in Memphis, TN, with Dr. Darwin Eton, a vascular surgeon who works locum tenens at hospitals all across the country. As part of our series of profiles of locum tenens physicians, Dr. Eton will tell us why he chose locum tenens rather than retire after an illustrious career as a Professor of Vascular Surgery. Dr. Eton, thanks for joining me.
DE: After 35 years in university practice, locum tenens provided me the opportunity to start a biotech company while continuing to perform clinical surgery without the constraints of working in a university employment model. In addition, present health care policy has led to early retirement of a record number of skilled vascular surgeons nationwide. The Society of Vascular Surgery underscores that the lack of senior mentors is detrimental to the delivery of vascular care and encourages senior surgeons to maintain mentorship roles. Locum experience offers a solution to mentorship without the burdens of malpractice insurance expense and practice costs.
AW: Can you elaborate on the transition from university to locum tenens?
DE: My busy university clinical practice ran in parallel to my running an active research laboratory. While I brought in many research grants, my salary was solely determined by my clinical activity. I had 2 full time jobs, and was paid for only one for 35 years. Outside of my employment I generated income as an expert witness and as a corporate consultant. All of my non-clinical activities had significant value. Locum tenens allowed me to focus on growing this value without compromising my clinical and educational experience. One year after retiring from university employment I received the prestigious Cures Within Reach Award in 2016 for my research. This facilitated establishing a company that is focused on developing a cell therapy solution for ischemic vascular disease.
AW: How much clinical time do you do now? Say in a month?
DE: I will be 100% clinical at four university settings in 3 states during the next 3 months. Clinical pauses are taken as needed throughout the year to advance my research and non-clinical activities.
AW: Any other benefits of locum tenens?
DE: Clinical activity facilitates maintaining a medical license and board certification. On a personal level I have met so many excellent clinicians and allied health professionals, as well as wonderful patients and families from parts of the country I had never been to.
AW: How did you transition into locum tenens?
DE: My evolution into the process started when the regional director of Tenet Health Inc asked me to return to a Chicago hospital where I had worked as a University employee. Since I was averse to any employment model, a solution arose through a “consultant” role, arising from a locum tenens firm. My role expanded to another Tenet Health Hospital in Chicago then to other Illinois Medical Centers. It was such a good experience that I obtained the Multistate license. I have performed vascular surgery all over the United States, mentoring young attendings and residents while also learning from each system.
AW: So, being self-employed you've had the opportunity to help your patients, travel the country, and develop your company. And it sounds like you're enjoying your life even more than you were in your previous professor role?
DE: Without question. This type of lifestyle is excellent for medicine the way it is today. By traveling around the country I can assert that I see little difference between major medical centers and smaller community hospitals when it comes to elective vascular surgery. EMR, once you get used to it, does facilitate daily work. Patient care is differentiated by the experience of the doctor and nurse more than the size of the hospitals. Locum tenens physicians provide the expertise where it may be lacking. I particularly look forward to the challenging vascular cases lined up for me when I arrive at some of the hospitals.
AW: Dr. Eton, I want to thank you for joining me and sharing your experience with local tenens.