Practicing locum tenens means becoming an independent contractor
Thinking about trying locum tenens work? If you want a flexible work schedule and you handle change well, you're probably a good fit for this style of practice.
But before you pack your bags, take some time for introspection. What aspects of your personal and professional life are most important to you? For example, would you rather develop a few lasting friendships or meet a large circle of acquaintances? Do you prefer structure and consistency or continually charting new paths?
What are your reasons for considering locum tenens practice? Maybe you yearn to "see the world" before you put down roots. Or maybe you've been doing the same thing in the same place for a long time and you're ready for a change of pace. Perhaps you're close to retirement and ready to cut back your schedule, but you need to maintain some cash flow or keep your skills updated.
In addition to all of the information on here, we have also built out a dedicated resource center specifically for independent contractors, including tax tips, health insurance advice, financial planning for 1099 contractors and more!
Evaluating Locum Tenens Agencies
There are more than 100 U.S. based companies providing some temporary physician or advanced practice services. With approximately 500 employees and more than 20 years in business, LocumTenens.com is one of the larger industry players.
Most established locum tenens companies maintain high standards and do a good job for the healthcare industry. Many of the larger, longer-standing agencies belong to the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO). NALTO members agree to follow certain industry standards and practices, and to work constructively with each other to resolve disputes when they arise.
Here are some questions to guide you in deciding which locum tenens agencies to work for.
- How large is the agency and how long has it been in business? Is it financially stable?
- What locations and types of assignments are available?
- What's the contract length? (Assignments through LocumTenens.com run from a few days to two years or more. However, the average is about three weeks.)
- Why is the facility hiring a locum tenens physician or advanced practice provider? Can the agency shed any light of the situation you'll be entering?
- Are hours guaranteed? Is there mandatory call? What's the policy on overtime?
- Will malpractice insurance be covered?
- Is the healthcare facility open to contract extensions or repeat assignments?
- Is the facility looking for someone to fill the job permanently? What happens if things go so well for both sides that we want to convert the assignment to a permanent hire?
Practicing Independently Through LocumTenens.com
Major recruiting firms like LocumTenens.com take care of most business aspects of practicing medicine so you can focus on patients. These include:
- Negotiating contracts with hospitals or medical groups (on your behalf, but as an independent contractor)
- Purchasing medical malpractice insurance
- Getting licensed in a new state
- Getting credentialed at the assigned medical facility
- Arranging transportation to/from the assignment
- Securing housing during the assignment
- Getting reimbursed by clients for professional services
- Direct-depositing paychecks twice per month
We follow JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) and NCQA (National Commission on Quality Assurance) standards in verifying your education and training, work experience, licensing and credentialing. LocumTenens.com will place only the physicians and advanced practitioners who meet these minimum standards:
- Good standing with American Medical Association and in the National Practitioner Data Bank
- Question-and-Answer page of our application with Attestation and Release signed
- Four reference names/addresses and at least two good in-house references
- Copy of DEA certificate
- Copy of state license and state controlled substance permit (if applicable) for the assignment location
Becoming an Independent Contractor
Even if you work through a locum tenens agency like LocumTenens.com, you'll be working as an independent contractor. This means the agency won't be withholding payroll taxes (including Social Security and Medicare taxes, unemployment, worker's compensation or employee benefits).
You'll need to pay estimated income taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (and to your state taxing agency, if applicable) quarterly. You'll also need to purchase health, disability and life insurance (plus any other benefits needed) on your own. Also consider that independent contractors only earn income when they're working. You'll be on your own for vacation, sick and personal days as well.
The good news is that locum tenens physicians and advanced practitioners typically get larger paychecks than those their peers receive from full-time employers. There's no withholding, and in certain high-demand specialties like anesthesiology and radiology, healthcare facilities pay a premium for supplemental specialists. Also, as an independent contractor you can take many tax deductions for business-related expenses.
Of course, the reason an increasing number of highly qualified physicians, PAs, NPs and CRNAs are working locum tenens these days is FREEDOM. Work as much or as little as you want. Pick your location. Negotiate your terms. Get back to focusing on patient care. Let an agency like LocumTenens.com make it easy for you! Let us prove how dedicated we are to ensuring the best locum tenens experience possible.
Am I Ready to Try Locum Tenens?
Some Questions to Consider:
- Do I know what practice setting would work best for me? Or would I like to experience different practice settings before landing somewhere permanently?
- Do I adjust quickly to new people and environments?
- Do I currently live in a place where I'd like to set up practice or retire?
- Which do I enjoy more-building long-term relationships with patients I see regularly or seeing a perpetual variety of people and cases?
- Do I meet the clinical requirements of typical locum tenens clients? (Many hospitals today insist that their physicians be board-certified.)
- Is my medical competency above average? (Locum tenens physicians typically undergo more rigorous scrutiny more often than the average physician does.)
- Do I have ties (e.g., family) to a particular community to consider?
- Am I willing to forego receiving a steady paycheck with taxes and benefits deducted each pay period for the freedom to work independently?
- Do I fully understand what it means to be an independent contractor? Am I willing to take responsibility for filing a 1099, paying payroll taxes quarterly and buying my own health insurance?
- Is relief from administrative hassles like buying malpractice insurance and securing payment from patients or third-party providers worth packing up and moving to different assignments for days or weeks at a time?