Guide to Practicing Locum Tenens

Guide to working locum tenens

Are you wondering what locum tenens work is? Have you heard about it from other physicians or advanced practitioners but are wondering how it would work for you, and what you should expect?

Our all-encompassing guide to locum tenens work is based on our company’s 20-year history of working with physicians and advanced practitioners across multiple specialties. This guide is designed to help you find all the answers to questions you are asking or should be asking. Don’t see what you are looking for? Contact us and we’ll get back to you.  

What is it?

Locum tenens is a Latin phrase that means "to hold the place of, to substitute for." In the early 1970s, a federal grant was awarded to the University of Utah for the purpose of providing physician staffing services to rural health clinics in medically under-served areas of the western United States. The program proved so successful that many hospital administrators and physicians began calling for locum tenens physician staffing assistance. Today thousands of physicians, CRNAs, PAs and NPs contract with locum tenens companies.

Whether you are a resident, mid-career practitioner or semi-retired practitioner, locum tenens work could be a perfect fit for you, enabling you to work as little or as much as you want.

Most agencies cover travel fees, lodging costs and malpractice insurance to help reduce logistical worries. Recruiters learn your interests in order to match you to the perfect opportunity, credentialing specialists handle credentialing privileges with healthcare facilities and customer care teams take care of logistical tasks to ensure an assignment goes smoothly. Benefits include:

  • After medical school, test drive different positions or sample different practice settings before settling on a permanent one.
  • Earn extra income – locum tenens pay can help pay off medical school debt, or adds an extra financial cushion for you and your family. After retiring, locum tenens work is great for supplementing retirement income.
  • Enjoy a flexible schedule – you choose where and when you go. You can even consider combining family vacation with a locum tenens assignment.
  • Network with new colleagues and medical staff while caring for patients.
  • During a mid-career stage of your life, you can learn new skills or contemplate a career change, while keeping your skills sharp and maintaining your license.
  • Travel to new locations throughout the country (or even across the globe) on someone else’s dime.
  • Improve patient access to quality healthcare, especially in poor or rural communities.
  • Gain more clinical experience without worrying about the business side and extra paperwork involved in a healthcare practice.
  • Balance your work and family life.

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
  • Direct-depositing paychecks (LocumTenens.com pays weekly, but pay varies by agency)

How does it work?

There are more than 100 U.S.-based companies providing temporary physician or advanced practice services. 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), as does LocumTenens.com. NALTO members agree to follow certain industry standards and practices. Here are a few 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?
  • Does this agency have a good reputation with physicians, advanced practitioners and healthcare clients?
  • What locations and types of assignments are available?
  • Will malpractice insurance be covered?

Most locum tenens agencies will help you navigate paperwork and licensing. Here is some advice when working with a recruiter:

  • Try to establish a relationship with at least one or two agencies.
  • Create a rapport with your recruiter. Let them know your likes and dislikes.
  • Get your paperwork in order.
  • Try to keep at least five active licenses. Let your agency help you get more.
  • Retain references for at least six months to a year. Consider asking people to be references while you’re on your current locum tenens assignment.
  • Get confirmations of which agencies presented you and keep copies of your presents.
  • Keep a copy of your Certificate of Insurance (COI) for malpractice.

Make sure your curricula vitae (CV) is updated. Here are some tips:

  • Make the first page of your CV the essentials at a glance.
  • List your permanent and locum tenens employment history.
  • List the month/year of all your locum tenens jobs.
  • Keep the information about your licenses current.
  • List areas of specialization.
  • Save the information about research, publishing and poster presentations until the end.
  • Spell-check!

Even if you work through a locum tenens agency, 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 IRS (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.

  • Before you do anything else, meet with your accountant.
  • Consider setting yourself up as an LLC for tax advantages.
  • Create a budget for your quarterly tax payments and other expenses.
  • Plan for emergencies.
  • Manage your risk.
  • Whether by shoebox, spreadsheet or smart phone app – Get yourself organized!

What can I expect?

A LocumTenens.com recruiter can offer you the personalized service and attention you deserve. We are dedicated to helping you find the perfect locum tenens job. Your recruiter will handle all the time-consuming details of working as an independent contractor and the business aspects of practicing medicine so you can focus on your patients. Our recruiters are highly-trained on the particulars of one medical specialty and can quickly match the right candidate with the right job. First we listen, then we offer you an appropriate match. If you accept the position we will arrange for all the details, to list a few:

  • Competitive compensation
  • Experienced licensing and credentialing assistants
  • Paid housing and travel
  • Medical malpractice insurance
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Weekly timesheets and direct deposit
  • On-boarding programs before assignments start

Sign up on our website or speak to a recruiter today about one of our many available jobs at 800.930.0748.

When your recruiter finds you a good match at a healthcare facility, there are some additional important questions you should make sure the recruiter asks the facility before you sign any contract. Some examples of things to think about before committing to an assignment include:

  • What's the contract length?
  • Are hours guaranteed? Is there mandatory call? What's the policy on overtime?
  • 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?

The orientation process is one of the most valuable aspects for a locum tenens professional starting an assignment at your facility. Whether the job lasts for a few days or a few months, the first day is vital to the effectiveness of your work during the assignment. Every facility differs in size, environment, staff, requirements and regulations. The following checklist can help you maximize the productivity of your locum tenens experience by ensuring you are effectively oriented to your facility, staff, policies and procedures.