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How does locum tenens compensation work?

As physicians navigate a complicated healthcare landscape, more providers are looking to locum tenens for its balance of independence, flexibility, and earning power. According to CHG Healthcare’s State of Locum Tenens report, nearly 50,000 physicians in the U.S. are currently working locums — about 7% of all available physicians.

Rewarding as it may be to practice medicine, it’s definitely normal to think about how you’ll get paid when working locum tenens. While salary varies by specialty and other factors, locum tenens pay rates are generally higher across all medical specialties. On average, physicians who work locums full time make over $32 more per hour than their permanently employed colleagues.

Let’s take a closer look at how compensation works for locum tenens physicians, and some of the factors that determine your salary.

Locums physicians are independent contractors who work as W-9/1099 employees of a staffing agency. Because they don’t receive a traditional W-2 salary with taxes automatically withheld from each paycheck, locums physicians are responsible for their own taxes and benefits.

To learn more, check out our tax guide for locum tenens providers or our detailed look at healthcare and other benefits for locums physicians.

Beyond the pay rate physicians receive for locum tenens assignments, working locums often comes with non-traditional compensation — like paid travel around the country and reimbursements for state licenses and other costs.

Locum tenens physicians usually get paid an hourly rate by their staffing agency. Some locums contracts include sign-on bonuses or completion bonuses. You may also receive higher pay for night or weekend call shifts or for exceptionally long workweeks.

Payment schedules vary between agencies. To streamline payments for our physicians, Weatherby Healthcare uses a convenient online, time-entry system and sends payments via weekly direct deposits.

Just like permanent positions, your locum tenens salary can vary significantly based on several factors, including:

Matching the job: Availability on all necessary dates and recent experience with required procedures put you in a better position to negotiate higher pay.

Location: Areas with severe shortages or higher costs of living may offer increased pay to attract skilled physicians.

Specialty: Physicians in hard-to-fill specialties can command higher pay rates for locum tenens assignments.

Skill set and patient load: Positions requiring specialized skills typically pay more, as do high-workload assignments.

Shift type: Weekends, holidays, and overnight or call shifts often command higher hourly rates.

It’s theoretically possible to work locum tenens without an agency, but it’s extremely complicated. You’ll be responsible for establishing relationships, negotiating rates, and handling all logistics like travel, housing, and credentialing.

Reputable locum tenens agencies like Weatherby negotiate on your behalf to secure a competitive salary for all assignments and ensure they align with your preferences for things like location or length of contract. And because all our consultants are trained to support a specific medical specialty, they’re able to advocate for physicians while finding assignments and negotiating pay rates.

Trusted locums agencies have long-term relationships with hospitals and healthcare systems, who reach out when they have temporary staffing needs. Healthcare facilities pay locums agencies to find qualified providers to fill the position and handle time-consuming details like booking flights and accommodations.

Staffing agencies are incentivized to negotiate win-win pay rates that benefit physicians, as they typically get paid by adding a small markup to the physician’s hourly rate. Agencies with well-established industry connections can be a major boon for locum tenens physicians looking to maximize their earning power.

Beyond the pay rate specified in your contract, locum tenens agencies also usually cover:

Malpractice insurance: Locum tenens agencies generally cover physicians on assignment with their own malpractice policy, though coverage duration and limits may vary. Weatherby includes tail coverage to protect you in perpetuity, whether or not you’re still working with us when a claim arises.

Licensing and credentialing: Top-notch agencies will have dedicated teams to help you move through the licensing and privileging process as efficiently as possible.

Travel and housing: Locums agencies generally pay for housing — usually a hotel or extended-stay apartment near your assignment. If you have specific needs (like family members or pets to accommodate) a great agency will go the extra mile to find a solution.

Differences in pay rates between locum tenens agencies usually come down to a few factors:

Agency reputation: Well-established agencies like Weatherby often have access to higher-paying assignments in leading healthcare facilities — sometimes before the job is even posted.

Negotiation skills: Agencies with veteran consultants understand the hiring landscape for locums physicians and can leverage their industry connections into more favorable contracts.

Benefits and incentives: Aside from the base pay rate, things like travel and housing allowances, malpractice insurance, and other perks can all impact total compensation.

Agency transparency: Some agencies are more honest than others with their advertised pay rates for locums assignments. As with most things in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

A well-established staffing agency can provide higher-paying assignments in leading healthcare facilities across the country, plus valuable support at the negotiating table.

When you work locum tenens with Weatherby, you’ll have access to a personal consultant who can help you achieve a more lucrative and rewarding career. They’ll strive to understand your personal and professional goals and deliver hand-picked assignments to fit how, when, and where you prefer to practice.

Learn more about the benefits of working locum tenens, or explore our other helpful resources for physicians.

Visit the blog.

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