10 Things I Wish I Had Known as a New Locum Tenens Provider
Taking the first steps to becoming a locum tenens provider might be intimidating, but you don’t have to go in blind. Danielle Kepics, PA, an experienced locum provider, and Justin McCormick, senior recruiter for Staff Care, offer their wisdom on how to embark on your new locum tenens career with clear expectations.
Locum tenens — which literally means “to hold a place”— offers temporary assignments for physicians and advanced practitioners in all 50 states, covering a variety of specialties. First-time locum tenens providers are often drawn to the flexibility of this career option, as they can choose to work full-time, travel assignments, or part-time jobs close to home.
10 Tips For New Locum Tenens Providers
1. You’ll want to start with an agency and a recruiter you trust
New locum providers will want to work with a reputable locum tenens company, and there are various ways to find one. You can check if they are a member of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations, if they are Joint Commission-certified, if they have been in business for a few years, and whether other locum tenens providers would recommend them.
“My sense is the most important part of having a great locum tenens experience is having a great recruiter,” McCormick said. “If you talk to a recruiter and they feel like the stereotypical used car salesperson, move on. You need to have clear, honest communication and trust with your recruiter to have a successful experience.”
2. You can ask for the salary you want
Locum practitioners are independent contractors who are paid an hourly rate.
“I would encourage travelers to ask for the salary they want. You should always high ball—because the need is there, the money is there,” stated Kepics. “I always make more than I would at a permanent position.”
3. The locations aren’t always glamorous
“Particularly in primary care, the vast majority of the need for providers is in rural settings,” commented McCormick. “Not that these can’t be great locations, they just aren’t always at the heart of vibrant cities.” Locums can take advantage of new locations to be close to family or explore a new area of the country on their days off.
While you can choose where you want to work, when you are first starting as a locum provider, it is important to be flexible about location. As you build your resume, more options may open up to you.
4. You can get experience in a new specialty
“It is possible to get a position in a specialty that is new to you—which is a great way to broaden your resume,” said Kepics. The more you communicate about your priorities, the easier it is for your recruiter to locate assignments that can offer just the right kind of experience.
Locum tenens providers also have the opportunity to learn new best practices, work in prestigious facilities, learn the latest medical equipment and connect with mentors who can advance their careers.
5. Credentialing can hit snags
While your locum tenens agency will handle the paperwork required for credentialing in a new location, occasionally the process can be delayed for reasons beyond your and their control.
“Don’t be surprised if, from time to time, the start date of your assignment has to be pushed back a bit while you wait for credentialing to come through,” remarked McCormick.
6. Locums should get a good CPA, financial advisor, and insurance agent
Being an independent contractor has advantages like you get to decide which assignments you will take and you can stay outside of any workplace politics. It can, however, be more financially complicated than permanent employment. For instance, you will be responsible for paying your own income taxes—usually on a quarterly basis.
Additionally, most locum tenens agencies don’t provide benefits, so you might want the help of a financial planner to make retirement savings decisions and will need to arrange for any health insurance you’d like to have in place.
7. Living across state lines for an extended time can be complicated
What happens if you are working in another state and your license plates expire while you are on assignment? Or do you want to make your voice heard in an upcoming election?
“I totally didn’t think about this. There are a couple of routes you can go. You can sell your car or park your car somewhere and have your company rent you one. Or you can figure it out as you go,” said Kepics.
Locum travelers should also be aware that if they take up temporary residence in a new city for 12 months or more, it can change the status of their tax home, which can then affect the tax-deductible status of some reimbursements.
8. You should keep copies of ALL paperwork and communication
It is important to keep a full history of your malpractice insurance (most locum agencies will cover this insurance while you’re on assignment), and you should also keep all communication with your locum tenens agency and anything related.
“I recommend creating an email folder for each company you work with and keeping a file folder of all business-related expenses. Additionally, get everything in writing. I once lost my housing, which wasn’t my company’s fault, but after that experience, I make sure I have documentation of everything,” said Kepics.
9. There are things you can’t control
Your recruiter will work with you to iron out the details and get you ready for your locum tenens assignments, including housing, but no job or living situation can be 100 percent perfect. There are a few things that are simply out of your control.
“This is the list I’ve made so far: shower pressure, closet space, washer/dryer, neighbors, dishwasher, how long the hot water lasts, fridge space, the mattress, and the reality that sometimes contracts fall out,” Kepics offered. Any major issues can be brought to the attention of your recruiter or housing specialist.
10. You might be surprised how much you like it
“I love traveling and seeing new places,” Kepics reflected. “I’m also stimulated by the challenge and constant change, but one of the things I love most is that I get to connect with new people all of the time.”
“I had a teacher in high school tell me to ‘affect my corner of the world.’ Whether it is patients or co-workers, I try to just make things better wherever I go. As a locum provider, I get to do that over and over. I’ve learned that I want roots and wings and locum work allows me to have both.”