According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the physician shortage shows no signs of abatement. While that’s not good news for the healthcare industry, there is a positive consequence for advanced practitioners. More than ever before, facilities are engaging NPs and PAs to provide the care their patients need. That, in turn, has created greater demand for locum tenens PAs and NPs. And as these opportunities grow, so do the benefits associated with the career alternative.
While PA pay and NP pay vary from contract to contract based on market conditions, locum tenens professionals often earn more than staff counterparts. “Locums offers a huge pay increase. I think my friends are probably now making what I was making when I first started working locum tenens,” says PA Jessica Bastidas, whose first locums assignment was in her hometown of Chicago.
This is especially applicable when handling call or logging overtime versus salaried positions. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of places that don’t pay PAs or NPs call,” Bastidas adds. “We should be compensated for that work. I take the overtime and put that all in savings for the times when I need to find something to overlap for my next assignment.”
When doctors accept locum tenens opportunities, they’re considered independent contractors. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners who work for Weatherby Healthcare, however, are treated like employees, which means all pertinent taxes are withheld for them.
“I am not a saver, so those W-2 agencies are very helpful. They take the taxes out without me having to stress, ‘I’m going to owe the government money!’” says Renée Watson, an adult care nurse practitioner.
Weatherby Healthcare even provides traditional employee benefits for locum tenens PAs and NPs, such as medical and dental insurance, 401(k) retirement savings, life insurance, and other voluntary optional benefits.
For many locum tenens providers, greater compensation rates help fulfill the adage of working smarter, not harder. In this case, the smart move is earning more during short-term contracts so you have more flexibility with time off.
“At my stage of life right now, I like locums because it gives me a lot more control over my schedule,” says NP Patricia Gambrell, currently practicing in inpatient cardiology.
In his permanent job, PA Stacy Hicks is often on duty for 24 hours at a time. When he accepts an occasional locum tenens assignment, his schedule becomes much more lenient. “It’s usually a 12-hour shift. The hours are definitely less, and it’s less stressful as well to be honest with you,” he says.
While away on assignment Hicks always finds time to video chat with his family back home, often calling the kids at breakfast time before he falls asleep, and again before their bedtime. “I try to read them a story before they go to sleep at night,” he says.
Time for yourself
Having more control over schedules can make more room for personal interests, from hobbies to friendships to travel. For example, Renée Watson has taken time off to visit England, Spain, Mexico, and Malta. She’s currently assigned to a facility in Hawaii, where she’s considering trips to Japan and Taipei during her free time.
Now that Jessica Bastidas is in California, she and her fiancé have been able to indulge their love of wine by exploring different wineries when he flies out for visits.
As a full-time employee, Patricia Gambrell sometimes had difficulty arranging time off to fulfill continuing medical education requirements or attend conferences. In one instance, she’d paid for the course, but had to withdraw last minute to cover shifts. That frustration ultimately pushed her toward locum tenens.
“I had to eat that money, so I decided I was never going to be in that situation again,” she remembers.
Now Gambrell has the flexibility to be off assignment when those professional development opportunities arise.
Plus, each new position is a learning opportunity. Observing other clinicians from assignment to assignment allows locum tenens professionals to accumulate new skills or different techniques.
A supportive partner
By partnering with Weatherby, locum tenens PAs and NPs enjoy a team of experts to handle most of the nonclinical details associated with finding and executing short-term contracts. Consultants are on call to answer questions throughout the entire process.
“My consultant is personable and open to communication as well as somebody who has my back in terms of ensuring I am satisfied with what is happening with my assignments,” says Watson. “If you have a consultant who has your back, I find locums to be an enjoyable, financially beneficial experience that allows flexibility and control over your schedule.”