A locum tenens physician accepts short or long term assignments with healthcare organizations across the country, whether for just a few shifts or an extended period of time.
Locum tenens are in high demand nationwide because of the growing shortage of physicians. They allow hospitals and physician groups to provide high quality care during illness, vacation, sabbaticals, maternity leave, recruiting periods and peak seasons.
There are many reasons to expand your career as a locum tenens
Locum tenens staffing allows doctors and medical providers to provide care in the place of another doctor when they are unavailable for an extended period or to serve as extra staff when needed. Derived from the Latin phrase that means “place holder” physicians who choose locum tenens employment are guided and regulated by the same medical societies and organizations and hold the same medical licenses as their peers. This makes the idea of a provider being a “place holder” slightly misleading because these providers are highly trained, specialized, confident, and provide the same quality medical care of a clinic or medical center’s full time staff without being an employee of the facility.
Locum tenens employment opportunities are available across the United States and offer doctors, nurses and other health care professionals the chance to work thousands of miles from home or in a hospital right down the street. Because these positions require flexibility, independence and a love for new situations and people, locum tenens jobs tend to pay more than permanent positions and may include reimbursements for travel and lodging plus significant sign on bonuses.
Length of Contracts
As a locum tenens contractor, you will provide services through a third party locum tenens company to a private practice, hospital or other medical facility. Depending on where you are interested in working and how far from home you want to go, there may be a variety of contract lengths to choose from. The length of the job will vary depending on the client’s need for coverage and may last only a day or two or stretch as long as a year or more.
If you agree to a term, you will usually need to complete the entire term as indicated in your contract—partial terms aren’t usually part of the deal. You do, however, want to make sure there is an “out clause” in your contract to help you in case you end up working in a setting that’s less than appealing. In an article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, one doctor outlines restrictions that kept him within 10 minutes of his assigned clinic at all times. If he ventured further, he would be detained by the police. This was an agreement between the locum tenens company and the client who hired them. Make sure you know all the details of your contract before you agree.
Control Over Location
Because you are an independent contractor—not an employee of the locum tenens company—you have full control over where and when you will work. Many providers choose to stay in a specific state or region while others are open to moving across the country regularly. If you are open to working in a broader geographic location there will be more jobs and contract lengths to choose from.
Travel, Housing, Food and Insurance
One of the nice parts about locum work is traveling to new areas. Not every locum job will provide housing and travel expenses, so make sure to ask before you sign on the dotted line. This is especially true if you live locally. For most jobs, travel and housing costs are covered by the clinic or medical facility you will be working for. Make sure to outline what type of housing you have in mind so you don’t end up in less-than-desirable conditions. Try asking for a small apartment with access to a kitchen. Locum companies usually don’t pay for food costs, but if they won’t pay for housing at least ask them to contribute to your food bill. Remember to never put any costs (rental cars or lodging costs especially) on your credit card. Make sure all of these are referred back to the locum company for payment.
Medical liability insurance is another worry of many providers. This cost is covered by the third party locum tenens company linking you with your job, but there are virtually no benefits beyond that. No health insurance or other coverage is offered and remember that you are a contractor so your pay will not have taxes removed. You will receive a 1099 at the end of each year and be responsible for paying your own taxes to the government.
Locum tenens jobs offer a variety of benefits over permanent positions. Locum tenens isn’t right for every situation or personality but it does have some positive points. First, locum is a great choice for providers who are interested in a lighter workload—such as those who are retiring. Providers may not want to give up patient care entirely and locum work allows doctors to choose how often and where they will work, even if it’s just a few days a month.
Locum tenens helps providers looking for permanent work try out a geographic region or work setting before committing. Some providers aren’t sure where they want to work and being able to travel to different locations and work settings helps them try different environments.
Administrative responsibilities are less for locum tenens contractors, too. Permanent providers are left to balance a variety of administrative tasks, office politics, paper work and liability expenses. Locum tenens providers can focus on seeing patients without the hassle of running their own practice.
Finally, pay for regular locum tenens work also tends to be higher than that of permanent providers. Of course this is subject to many different variables including geographic location, how much of your travel/food/housing is being covered, and your area of expertise.
With any job, the amount of money you make will vary based on many different factors. Locum tenens work is the same way. Geographic location, years of experience, specialty area, and practice setting will all factor into your hourly pay. If you are working full time as a steady locum tenens physician there is a good chance you will make significantly more than your peers who hold permanent positions.
Some physicians complain that hourly compensation is less than that of permanent jobs but there is much to consider. Like the argument that a few dollars less on the hour is offset by the perks of paid travel and housing stipends. Providers will need to weigh the pros and cons of each contract, their personal needs, and the job’s payment terms before taking an assignment.
Pay for locum tenens work comes from the third party who hires you, but they are paid by the practice, clinic or medical facility you are working for. Of course they will take their cut before you receive yours so feel confident that the company you are working for has paid dearly to have you there. Pay is often based on a “per day” rate for a set number of hours worked. You may get a slightly higher rate for weekends or holidays, but this isn’t guaranteed. Also keep in mind that you do not collect any of your billed charges for patient care, tests, or diagnostics. This money will go back to the hospital, clinic or practice you are working for.
If you are looking for more freedom in your career, the chance to make your own decisions, or just brush up on your skills by seeing new patients, locum tenens may be for you. As an independent contractor you can say yes or no to any potential assignment and guide your work schedule as it fits your life and personal demands. While the locum tenens life may not be for everyone, keep in mind that not all jobs will be the same and your chance to meet new people, and experience new places will be enhanced by the opportunity to give great patient care.