Of all the challenges facing new physicians, managing medical school debt can be among the most imposing. Although today's physicians have a bright future ahead of them — all the more so considering the physician shortage that's creating more demand than ever for their skills — it can be tricky navigating those first few years on the job, given the burden of debt many physicians shoulder. Luckily, among all the solutions available for dealing with this problem, locum tenens work is both widely available and lucrative in other ways, as well. Read on for a rundown of how locums work can help you manage your own medical school debt.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) noted in its October 2015 Medical Student Education report that 81 percent of all medical school graduates had some form of debt loan. How much? The same report put the median at $183,000.
A couple of years earlier, 79 percent of medical school graduates reported a level of debt exceeding $100,000 — "no surprise considering that the median cost of medical school attendance is over $200,000 for both public and private schools," reported NerdWallet in a 2013 physician salary report.
But as a new physician, you likely don't need any reminders about medical school debt — most likely, managing that debt is already high on your list of priorities. And even if you're beginning your doctor career with no (or relatively little) medical school debt, finances are just as much a priority for you as for any young professional. With that in mind, let's take a look at what some experts have to say about how locum tenens work can not only help you manage your medical school debt, but also generally get your physician career started on the right track.
How Locum Tenens Work Can Help Physicians Manage Medical School Debt
"If paying down student loans is a priority for you, locum tenens offers two ways to help you accomplish that goal," explains the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations® (NALTO®). "Physicians right out of training who have planned ahead can have locum tenens engagements lined up and begin practicing immediately."
The NALTO experts explain that locum tenens work — since it's temporary, flexible, and of an abundant source — virtually gives physicians the option to custom-make a career path specifically geared toward paying off medical school debt.
"When deciding which opportunities to consider, be sure to let your recruiter know if earning the highest possible income is more important than geography," the NALTO article continues. "Pay rates ... can be significantly higher in remote locations where the need for physicians is greatest.
"In areas where demand is high and doctors are in short supply, it is not uncommon for locum tenens practitioners to earn attractive rates and pick up extra shifts and added call to boost income. Some locum tenens agencies also offer bonuses to physicians who are willing to practice in one location for an extended period of time."
And, as NALTO continues to explain, the financial benefits of locum tenens work goes beyond the paycheck to include cost of living and malpractice insurance, as well. "Keep in mind that when you take locum tenens opportunities, housing, travel, and malpractice premiums are all covered," the report states. "Indeed, low overhead means more money to put toward loan repayment." (Emphasis ours.)
"The Career Value of Locum Tenens Work is Extraordinary"
Certainly, an organization dedicated to promoting locum tenens work in the healthcare marketplace can be expected to speak favorably about the benefits of locums work. But NALTO's isn't the only voice extolling the virtues of locums work as a means to not only manage medical school debt but to reap other early-career benefits, too.
Locum tenens work is a great way to “try before you buy” a permanent medical career, opines Val Jones, MD in an article for KevinMD.
"When doctors complete their residency training, they are under a lot of pressure to land their first 'real job' quickly," Dr. Jones explains. "Student loan deferments end shortly after training, and whopping debt faces many of them. But choosing a job that is a good long-term fit can be difficult, and gaining a broader exposure to the wide variety of options is key to success."
Dr. Jones' article touches on many of the same benefits as NALTO's, but also talks up the appeal of the travel lifestyle for young physicians. "Physicians can travel as broadly as they like" for locum tenens work, "and the agency credentialing team works to efficiently complete any needed paperwork for new licenses and hospital privileging," she explains.
In her words, Dr. Jones "enjoyed 'living la vida locum' for six years" before landing her dream job. "That’s a long time to be living out of a suitcase," she admits, "and I doubt that most of my peers would want to do it for that long of a stretch.
"But an amazing thing happened during those years: With each new hospital experience, I gained insight and knowledge about my specialty. By rubbing elbows and networking with a wide swath of patients and experts across the country, I became a sought-after consultant in my own right.
"I experienced different ways of delivering health care — from critical access hospitals to bustling academic centers. I learned about best practices and creative solutions that administrators and clinical staff had discovered to improve care quality, given the limitations of Medicare rules and private insurance restrictions.
"The career value of locum tenens work is extraordinary," she concludes (emphasis, again, ours). "Take the time to look around you at each assignment. Learn what works and what doesn’t work, and file it away for future reference."
The advantage of "seeing different parts of the country and experiencing a variety of practice settings is as valuable as that all-important paycheck," the report concludes, echoing Dr. Jones' sentiment.
"Physicians who take full-time jobs after residency may find locum tenens opportunities in their local or regional areas, which allow them to provide coverage for a couple of weekends a month," the NALTO report states, emphasizing the flexibility of locums work. "And if opportunities are enticing, some even use vacation time to travel to a 1- or 2-week contract" — an important reminder that locums work isn't limited to full-time assignments, but can be leveraged as part-time weekend or vacation work, too.
Whatever way you choose to approach locums work, it's clear that the benefits of this career path go far beyond managing medical school debt. But if med school debt is your chief concern, there's never been a better time to give locums work some due consideration.
And luckily, demand for locum tenens physicians has never been greater. As the Staff Care 2015 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends points out, "hospitals, medical groups and other healthcare facilities are using locum tenens physicians to fill in gaps in their primary care staffs," as well as for other specialties.
Read more about how the physician shortage is creating an increased demand for locums workers here.
If you're interested in pursuing locum tenens work as a method of managing medical school debt — or for any other of the many benefits it offers — we encourage you to contact a Staff Care recruiter today. We also invite you to check out our nationwide list of locum tenens jobs for a rundown of where you can find your next career opportunity. And don't forget to check out the Staff Care Twitter feed for a direct line to all our latest locum tenens jobs.
Find a Locum Tenens Job