Whether you've just finished your residency or you're nearing retirement, working locum tenens can give your career more flexibility, greater income, and opportunities to expand your practice. It can even help fight feelings of burn out. However, you may have questions about taking temporary assignments and how it will work for you and your family. Review these answers to frequently asked questions.
What is locum tenens?
The term locum tenens is Latin for “one holding a place.” Today, it refers to a physician who fills in for another clinician who’s on vacation or leave. Locum tenens providers also fill gaps created by situations ranging from facilities needing to hire more full-time physicians to ensuring there is proper coverage during busier times caused by seasonal changes. Assignments can last anywhere from a few days to several months.
What are the benefits of working locum tenens?
There are many advantages to working locum tenens, including:
Setting your own schedule. You decide how many hours you work per day, how many days you work each week and whether you’d like to be on call or take an occasional night shift. You also decide whether you want to take locum tenens assignments every few months or make them your full-time occupation.
Keeping your skills sharp. Taking a job in a big hospital when you’re used to working at a small private practice can help you expand or refine your skills. You might encounter conditions you’ve never seen before and see the different ways physicians care for patients in various parts of the country.
Avoiding burnout. If you dread waking up and heading into work, a change of pace may be what you need to jumpstart your career again. Locum tenens assignments let you work in a new place with new coworkers and patients. You also have the opportunity to spend a little bit more time with patients. You have a certain level of control over your day and how you approach your assignment. You’ll also benefit from flexibility and reduced paperwork.
Supplementing your income. Many providers take locum tenens assignments to earn extra money for a wide range of reasons, including taking vacations, building nest eggs, and serving medical missions. Others use the additional paychecks to cover their children’s education or pay off their own student loans.
Traveling to new places. Whether you want to experience summer in Alaska’s mountains or winter on one of Florida’s beaches, locum tenens assignments make it possible for you to explore the United States while earning a substantial salary.
Avoiding administrative hassles. Locum tenens doctors don’t have to worry about writing paychecks, leasing a building, paying a mortgage, or installing new equipment at their private practices. When you take a temporary assignment, you can focus on caring for patients. Even your malpractice insurance and housing is covered.
Test-driving a new job. Especially appealing to medical residents and fellows, locum tenens assignments give you the opportunity to try out a position temporarily. You don’t have to sign a five-year contract or commit to a job until you know where you’d like to stay.
Easing into (or out of) retirement. Whether you’re slowly working less in preparation for retirement or realizing that after retirement you’d like to keep practicing medicine on a limited basis, locum tenens can give you the flexibility to work on your own terms.
How do I find a locum tenens agency?
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend hours looking for locum tenens jobs in states you’re interested in or call hospitals and inquire about openings. That’s what a staffing agency is for. Here’s what to look for when choosing an agency to work with:
NALTO membership. Agencies who join the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO) are required to abide by several ethical standards, including requesting a provider’s permission before submitting his or her CV to a client and representing job opportunities accurately.
Experience in your specialty. Make sure your agency not only places physicians in your specialty but has recruiters who understand it. You’re much more likely to find a satisfying job if your recruiter knows what you’re looking for and has worked with other providers in your specialty.
Malpractice insurance coverage. Agencies should provide your malpractice coverage while you are on assignment. Ask if the policy is comprehensive and whether it covers all incidents that may occur while you work for the agency. Be sure to discuss any associated charges as well.
Business longevity. Check out an agency’s website to see how long they’ve been in business and do a quick search online to see what other healthcare providers say about them. Agencies who’ve only been around for a few years won’t have as many clients or assignments and may not be able to provide benefits like paid travel and housing.
Jobs in multiple states. Not every agency has job openings across the country. Some companies only offer assignments in a few regions or states. If you’re set on working in New York City, for example, be sure your agency can find jobs for you there before signing a contract.
Quality and risk management teams. If anything happens on your assignment and you face a malpractice suit, you’ll want help from quality assurance and risk management teams through your agency. These teams also help you get jobs at reputable facilities.
Help with licensing and privileging. It’s much easier to get state licenses and hospital privileges when someone can walk you through the process. Look for a staffing agency with dedicated licensing and privileging teams that have relationships with boards and facilities throughout the country.
Travel and housing. Ask if your agency covers the cost of your travel and housing while you’re on a locum tenens assignment. Or ask if they offer a stipend if you find your own place to stay. Booking a hotel or apartment and flights back and forth can quickly become expensive.
How do I get a locum tenens assignment?
Once you’ve decided on a staffing agency and have a general idea of what you’re looking for in a temporary job, it’s time to get started. Here are the main steps to getting a locum tenens assignment:
Call a consultant. You’ll be partnered with an expert in your specialty who’ll get to know you and work to understand the types of assignments and locations that interest you.
Send an application and CV. Applying for a new job requires filling out an application and sending in your CV so your consultant can complete your profile and start matching you to locum tenens assignments you might be interested in. Make sure your work history is complete, all certifications and licenses are listed, and references are current. Your consultant can help you polish your CV and make it stand out to a future employer.
Review available jobs. Once your application is complete and you’ve sent your CV, your consultant will present your information to a facility for approval. If the facility chooses to hire you for an assignment, you’ll sign a contract and begin the licensing and credentialing process.
Process your credentials. To speed up credentialing, start gathering this type of information in advance:
Active state medical licenses
Medical school diplomas
Malpractice liability insurance certification
National provider identifier (NPI) documentation
Ensure your files receive priority attention by submitting all the requested documents as quickly as possible once you’ve signed a contract for an assignment. Be up front with your consultant if you won’t be able to turn in paperwork by his or her deadline.
Complete the licensing process. Obtaining a license can take months, depending on the state board. You can streamline the process a bit by having the following ready:
A chronological work history from medical school forward
Original education and specialty board certificates
Explanations for adverse events in your medical history (e.g., substance abuse, criminal history)
Malpractice summaries and court documents
A recent color passport photo
Licensing boards have very strict guidelines, so ask your consultant if you have questions about what to submit or how to find information.
Book your housing and travel. Your agency should have dedicated housing and travel teams, but you’ll need to let them know how many people will be traveling on the assignment with you, whether you’ll be bringing pets or any special accommodation you need. The housing team will ensure that the place you’re staying is safe and comfortable and let you know how early you can check in before your assignment. Once you’ve completed all paperwork, obtained your license and hospital privileges, and received confirmation on your travel and housing, you’re ready to head to your locum tenens assignment. Your consultant will keep in touch and make sure all is going well, and he or she will be ready to help if you need anything during your assignment.