Unusual Items to Pack for Locum Tenens Assignments
The following article was written by Sheila Gibson, WMS account executive. Sheila has extensive knowledge of traveling back and forth between Washington State and rural Alaska, as her husband, Dr. Gibson, was a long-time physician in a rural Alaskan health center, while her family lived in the lower 48.
So, you’re going on a locum assignment and beginning to think about packing. Beyond the obvious need for clothing and personal items, what else should you include? Most assignments run one or more weeks, so you’ll have a mix of workdays and time off. Read on for our suggestions, and more tips on unusual items to pack for locum tenens assignments.
What You’ll Know Ahead of Time
Before starting an assignment, in our facility descriptions with Wilderness Medical Staffing, we have a list of the amenities you can expect at each location, and we share those with providers when assignments are coordinated.
For instance, at a few locations, food is provided as the site is a closed-campus commercial facility. For most of our assignments, the provider would be responsible for supplying their own food. Details such as type of housing (private or shared dorm-style, for example), food options, the opportunity for family to be accommodated, etc. are in our facility notes, and we update any time we’re informed of changes.
The key to being prepared for your assignment, right down to the details of what to pack, is good communication with either your account executive and/or a WMS provider who recently worked at the same facility.
If you’re working with a different staffing agency than WMS, they will likely have similar information for you. If they don’t, be sure to ask about it!
Driving vs. Flying to a Locum Tenens Assignment
WMS places providers at facilities in Alaska, Montana, Washington, Wyoming, and Idaho. While most of our providers fly to their assignments, some drive. If you’re driving, then packing becomes much easier as you don’t have to be concerned with checking bags, weight allowances, managing perishable foods over long travel times, and restrictions or regulations around items that can be tricky to pack for flights.
For example, if you’re packing oversize items, such as fishing rods, to take advantage of the fishing season where you’ll be working, it could get expensive to take your fishing gear on a seaplane or bush plane. If you’re going to be on assignment for several weeks, taking food with you could put you over the weight limit for small planes, and incur excess baggage fees.
Providers who are driving have control over all these situations and can add comforts from home without having to factor in weight and size restrictions, or possibility that luggage goes astray, and perishable foods perish if there’s a lengthy delay getting to your destination.
That said, even for providers who are driving, it’s worth your time to know what extras would be helpful to pack, and what would be redundant or unnecessary.
If you’re driving, consider the time of year and your route, and if the area is remote, research gas stations and locations for assistance. Winter storms and summer flooding have made for some interesting road trips!
Unusual Items to Consider Packing
- Outdoor clothing/gear (small backpack, hat, etc.)
- Bear spray
- Fishing gear
To get the most out of your time on assignment, many providers pack with the outdoors in mind. If you plan to get outdoors for hiking and exploring, you’ll want outdoor clothing and gear, including bear spray. Keep in mind that you will probably need to buy the bear spray locally unless you’re driving.
Many providers enjoy fishing while on assignment, but you’ll need to have a license so be sure you know the local rules and how to obtain a license for your assignment location.
Also, learn about the weather for the season of the year and plan accordingly.
- Small personal blender
- French press/Pour over coffee maker
- Favorite knife
- Spices and seasonings
Having necessities in the kitchen can make a huge difference in settling into a new environment. From healthy options to items of convenience, you’ll want to make sure to pack items like these.
Do you start each day with a smoothie? Taking a small personal blender can be a lifesaver as locum kitchens will likely not have this. If you’re a coffee lover and prefer a French press or pour-over set up, you may want to bring them along. Locum apartments do not typically have specialty equipment like this, so it’s best to bring your own small versions of these items if this is important to your morning.
And even though you can’t take your home kitchen with you, if you have a favorite knife or choice of spices or seasonings, you’ll be glad you brought them along.
If you need help with stocking up on some kitchen essentials, camping supply/outdoor equipment stores are great places to pick up small versions of kitchen tools or appliances, as well as hiking gear and other equipment that would be useful in remote settings.
- Workout attire
- Fitness Bands
- Additional small workout equipment
You can also check with your WMS account executive to see if the community or facility have a fitness center or pool. If you want to work out and the community doesn’t have a fitness center, consider taking resistance bands or other small equipment that’s reasonable to pack.
- Hobby supplies or craft projects small enough to be practical to pack
Sometimes, being in a rural or remote area is the perfect setting to carve out some time to get back to your hobbies. If you’re a photographer, be sure to pack your extra camera in addition to your phone for photos.
If the weather is bad, you may find yourself stuck inside for long periods, so it’s good to have something to do! A provider recently told me she was making her second knitted hat when she had been delayed for several days getting to her assignment. You could also consider bringing small puzzles or decks of cards to occupy some time indoors.
- White noise machine
- Clean linens
Adjusting to sleeping in a new location can always take some time and these communities are counting on healthcare providers to be there when they need them. Having some of your nighttime comforts can help you feel refreshed and ready to take on your assignment.
If you need a C-PAP or other medical devices, like mouth guards, add them to your packing list. Many people like to sleep with a “white noise” machine, which can be nice to have, especially in the quiet of a rural location. On the flip side, if howling animals could wake you up at night, don’t forget some earplugs to drown out any unwanted noise.
While you can expect that linens will be clean, they likely will be very basic. If you like high thread-count sheets or a specific type of pillow, you should probably bring your own.
- Electric toothbrush
While most locations will provide towels, if you have a favorite kind that you’d prefer to use, feel free to pack a few to get you through the week. If you use things like electric toothbrushes, don’t forget the toothbrush and a charger. Depending on the length of assignment, you may want a few extra brush heads too.
We mentioned this before on our food blog post: if you follow a strict diet or require specific items for your diet, or even just prefer a special brand of coffee, tea, etc., you should probably bring those foods with you as small markets in remote locations may not have what you need.
These are some of the easiest items to pack or ship ahead of time so you have some staple food when you get to your assignment.
- Pouches of salmon and tuna
- Canned chicken
- Nuts, raisins, nut bars, granola bars, and other dried fruits
- Beef jerky
- Freeze-dried fruits and veggies
- Sturdy crackers, nut butters, hard cheeses
- “Just add water” noodles or standard boxed meal options
- Rice or pasta (double bag so you don’t end up with rice all over your suitcase or tub)
- Soups, dried or canned (although canned soups will add more weight)
Amazon and other online sites ship all over the U.S. and offer an array of pantry items. With enough lead time, and depending on the location, online ordering is a great way to supplement your supplies. If you’re ordering from an online site before you’re physically at your locum assignment, verify the ship-to address with the facility contact (or your account executive can do this for you.) Especially for remote locations, don’t just assume you can use the facility address for shipping. The local staff can tell you if there are variables to be aware of for shipping to their location.
The other reason to carry-on a bag with food is that sometimes you’ll find yourself arriving after the local market has closed, on a holiday, or in the middle of a storm and you won’t be able to get to the grocery right away. If you’re lucky, the previous provider will have left some pantry items in your lodging, but you can’t count on that. It’s always best if you can provide for yourself in a pinch, at least for a day or two. Some providers will pack enough food for a few days in their carry-on luggage when flying just in case!
Legal Identification & Money
When you travel, accidents happen. You lose things, or perhaps someone has stolen your purse or wallet. Frustrating, but it happens! Have at least two forms of government ID that are accepted for travel, so if you lose one, you have a backup. You’ll need to store these in two separate secure spaces, one in a wallet, purse, or backpack, and your spare in another place. I’ve only needed my backup ID once, but it saved the day when I was able to pull out my second document and navigate through security to board my flight.
When you update your driver’s license, if your state offers a separate state ID option, request that at the same time. In my state, this is a card that looks very similar to a driver’s license and can be used to navigate airport security. The same is true for US passports and passport cards. The passport card can be purchased when you order a passport for a small additional fee, and there are some restrictions on where you can use the passport card, but it’s still quite helpful to have as a second ID.
If possible, keep at least two credit cards on you when you’re traveling, stored in separate bags/locations, or you may want to keep a debit card and a credit card for more flexibility. The other financial advice I’d offer is to keep some cash with you, in small bills. Cash comes in handy for tipping, small purchases, or to cover a bill when credit card processing is down, there’s no ATM in sight, or you’re in a cash-only place of business. You may encounter all of these scenarios in rural and remote locations. Redundancy is your friend and can save you from some very awkward situations.
As a recap, here’s what to pack:
- Two forms of government ID
- Optional additional state ID option or passport card
- Multiple credit cards or credit/debit cards
- Cash in small bills
Consider doing this for anything critical for you to have, and also easy to divide or duplicate so you’re still ok even if a bag is lost or stolen along the way.
- Don’t forget prescription medications!
While maps may seem like a primitive form of navigating, if the area where you’ll be working in is in a remote location, you’ll likely lose your cell signal when you leave the community. This is especially true if you plan to go hiking or exploring. Be sure to have a printed map with you if you’re going into the backcountry! If you’re driving to a remote location, be sure you make a screenshot of the directions in case you lose your navigation app if you lose cell coverage.
You’ll also want to think ahead about entertainment. Do you have access to streaming internet service and/or digital books? You’ll want to download anything you may want in advance in case internet speeds are slow, which is often the case in remote areas.
Think through your daily routine from start to finish, making notes about any items that you consider “essential” to personal care or comfort. If some small devices or items make sense to pack, bring them along!
Traveling with Storage Totes
Large storage totes may be your new best friend. These tips should get you well on your way to using storage totes as a primary packing and travel tool.
Flying with Storage Totes
Did you know you can pack and check Rubbermaid (or other brands) tubs on flights? (I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Rubbermaid tub on the baggage carousel. I didn’t know airlines would accept containers like that as checked luggage, but they accept many unconventional items. I’ve seen tires, boxes of diapers, Costco-size packs of toilet paper, and similar items in checked baggage in Alaska.)
Make sure your tubs aren’t over the weight allowance when you fill them, use packing tape or duct tape to secure the lid to the tub, label with name and address, and off you go! Tubs are great for food and equipment, and you can use them to leave items behind if you plan to return to the same location. Most facilities will allow providers to leave a small stash of personal goods if you’re returning for future assignments; just ask.
Shipping Storage Totes & Luggage
You can also mail Rubbermaid tubs to your location. Ask your account executive or a contact at the healthcare facility where you’ll be working if you can ship to the clinic address. Mailing ahead is a great way to get items to your location without having to navigate airline restrictions.
You can also mail luggage if you have enough lead time. Check with the USPS for best estimates in the length of time required to mail to your location and any other “need to know” updates.
Additional Items to Check at the Airport
Checking coolers and fish boxes/heavy-duty cardboard boxes on flights is also allowed. Just make sure the cooler or box is securely closed with duct tape or other means. You don’t want your container coming open en route! And always check with your airline on size and weight restrictions for non-luggage containers you plan to check.
Additional Helpful Tips for Trip Planning
Go Thrift Shopping
If you’re planning to leave some items behind at an assignment, because you plan to return to that location, Goodwill or thrift stores are good places to find inexpensive items. You may be able to stock up on some gently used kitchen supplies, small workout equipment, or other items that will make living remotely feel a little more like home.
Invest in Wheeled Luggage
If you don’t have wheeled luggage, invest in some! You’ll thank yourself when you’re strolling through the airport with ease, rather than struggling with a bag that you have to carry!
Coolers come with wheels too, so if you’re packing food in a cooler, make sure that’s wheeled as well as your luggage.
Know TSA’s Allowed and Disallowed Items
While you may be tempted to bring your entire house, including the kitchen sink, especially when flying, you’ll have restrictions.
Remember, TSA restricts liquids and pastes (think peanut butter) on flights, but most other foods are allowed through security. You can check TSA’s site for detailed answers on carry-on restrictions for food and other items.
Prepare Ahead for Travel Disruptions
With the recent disruptions to flights and travel in general, whether from weather issues or staff shortages, etc., you should plan to carry on enough basics that you can get by should your luggage be delayed or lost.
While most lost luggage eventually finds the traveler, if you’re going to a remote location, you might find yourself in difficulty if you check everything for your trip.
One of our very experienced providers says he always packs 1-3 days of simple food in his carry-on bag, as well as enough clothing and essentials so lost luggage won’t create a problem.
Be sure to include prescription medications and other “must have” items in your carry-on bag.
This is just a starting point for ideas to consider as you prep for your locum adventure.
There’s a wealth of information online! Check out travel and camping blogs for ideas on food prep, storage, and packing hacks. Facebook pages for the community you’ll be visiting can bring you up to speed on local doings.
Definitely check with providers who’ve been to the same site. Your account executive can connect you with others who will be able to give you up-to-the-minute details on lodging, food options, restaurants, recreation, etc.
And once you’ve been on assignment, particularly if the location is remote, we’d love to have your feedback to pass on to others. We learn so much from our providers, and we like to keep the cycle going. Send us photos, lists of what you found helpful, or anything else you’d share with someone coming behind you.
Also, if you have any great packing tips or equipment recommendations, please send those along too! We love sharing the innovative ideas our providers have found to make life easier.
Have fun out there, and just like the Scouts, be prepared!