Many physicians considering locum tenens work wonder if they need to use an agency to secure assignments. After all, couldn’t you potentially negotiate for a higher rate on your own? Perhaps. But not all healthcare organizations are eager to work with freelance locum providers, preferring instead to have an agency vet candidates for quality. Additionally, the logistics of finding and planning locum tenens can be time-consuming and costly, which cuts into the higher hourly pay rate you’ve secured for yourself.
Knowing the ins and outs of the locum tenens process is important when you’re deciding whether to use a locums agency or go it alone. Here are six must-dos for a successful locum tenens assignment.
1. Finding and securing locum tenens assignments
Finding your locum tenens assignments to fit your pay rate, schedule, and location preferences may take time to find, affecting your bottom line. That’s why many physicians prefer to use an agency to do the heavy lifting.
Weatherby Healthcare consultants take time to understand the preferences of locum tenens doctors, so they can present them with opportunities that fit the bill. They sort through myriad positions so you don’t have to.
“My consultant seeks out jobs or finds contracts that will fit both into my scheduling and my preferences,” explains Dr. Jim Mock, who practices emergency medicine. Recently, Dr. Mock faced a health challenge that made him unable to fly to out-of-state assignments. Fortunately, his consultant pulled strings to quickly find locum tenens jobs nearby and keep Dr. Mock working.
Internist Dr. Matthew Dothager says his Weatherby consultant always finds him multiple opportunities when he’s looking for a new assignment. His consultant also provides useful information about each hospital that he may not be able to obtain on his own. “He seems to give me the information in need — like the typical census, whether the ICU is open or closed, and what EMR they use. All this information helps me decide what places might be a good fit.”
2. Negotiating competitive rates for your locum tenens assignment
Several factors influence the rate for a given position: regional salary trends, demand for the specialty, the physician’s experience level, the urgency of the need, and more. Locums consultants have a deep understanding of all of these factors and how they intersect — and know when they can push for more.
“There’s a bit of a give and take and my consultant is a master at that give and take. He knows when we can ask for a little more and he knows when we should stick with what we’ve got. I always call and ask him if there’s any way we can corner a little bit more salary and he’s real candid with me,” explains Dr. Mock. “I can guarantee that the folks that are working for me are trying to get top dollar for me.”
3. Getting licensed and credentialed for each locum assignment
One of the most critical and time-consuming aspects of working locum tenens is licensing and credentialing. Having expertise in a state’s licensing requirements makes the process easier, and an agency’s help usually speeds up the entire process.
“Working locum tenens with an agency just makes life easier,” says Dr. Dothager. “The Weatherby credentialing team has been terrific. There is a ton of paperwork when it comes to getting licensed in states to practice medicine,” he says. “I was getting licensed in two states at once, so they were able to streamline the process, give me whatever information I needed in a timely manner, and make sure all the deadlines were met to get the licenses fairly expedited.”
Overall, the process was smooth and streamlined — especially because his Weatherby team provided pre-filled forms whenever possible. “It really made the whole process of applying for positions easy,” he says.
More on this topic: 10 things to know about credentialing
4. Paying for and arranging travel and housing for every assignment
A key benefit of working with a locum tenens agency like Weatherby is that travel and housing costs are covered by them. Furthermore, the agency has a team dedicated to making the necessary arrangements — and is available 24/7 if any issues arise.
“Weatherby’s travel teams take care of everything for me,” says Dr. Edward Babigumira, physical medicine and rehab physician. “The process is seamless; Weatherby sends my schedule in advance. I’ve never had an issue. Everything I need for my assignment is arranged for me, so it’s a quick transition.”
The travel team is also on hand for last-minute emergencies or changes. For example, explains Dr. Dothager, “When Hurricane Irma hit, they were able to work with me to get a change of flight because obviously, I was not making my flight. And it cost me nothing.”
Dr. Srinivas Bhadriraju, who practices pulmonary critical care and sleep disorder medicine, likes to bring his wife and their golden retriever along on assignments. His Weatherby travel consultant “works really hard to find dog-friendly accommodations and does everything possible to make travel easy for me,” he says.
5. Taking care of the logistics of working locum tenens
From finding opportunities to finalizing the schedule, a locums agency can make sure all of the details are covered.
“I let Weatherby worry about the logistics, and I just focus on taking care of patients,” says Dr. Bhadriraju of his partnership with Weatherby.
“My schedule is generally done about two to three months in advance so when I get ready to go on an assignment, the legwork has been completed,” says Dr. Mock. “Essentially all I have to do is pull up my travel itinerary, make it to the airport, get to the job, and go to work. That’s the beauty of working with Weatherby — they truly do make it an effortless process from determining that I’m going to work in a specific contract to actually getting there and doing the job.”
6. Securing future assignments
Reputable locum tenens agencies have recruiters who work to make sure locum physicians have assignments arranged in advance so there’s no gap in employment. The goal is for a seamless transition between one assignment and the next.
“For the 10 years that I’ve been working with Weatherby, I don’t ever worry whether I have enough work,” says Dr. Mock. His consultant ensures that he has the work he needs when he needs it. “As a result, I’ve never had a month where I didn’t have all the work that I wanted.”
At the beginning of a three-month assignment, hospitalist Dr. Lee Green says he was already receiving information about the next opportunities from his consultant. “He already had opportunities that were pretty ideal. I told him exactly what I wanted,” says Dr. Green. “He had three or four other options that he could start developing for me.”
Making the choice: agency or do-it-yourself?
Technology is great. With mobile apps you can book your own flights, find a ride, search for housing, or handle any number of other essential tasks. But when there’s negotiation involved, or added complexity, it’s nice to have someone experienced do the heavy lifting for you. If you’re a detail person and a technology buff who loves to be in control of the details, locum tenens DIY might be your best option.
While you may be able to secure your own assignments at what may appear to be higher rates, it may come at the expense of a great deal of extra work. Going it alone as a locum tenens physician requires you to wear multiple hats: negotiator, scheduler, travel agent, credentialing specialist, and contract expert. Weatherby takes care of these details — so you don’t have to.