Debunking 5 myths about working locum tenens with an agency

Illustration - debunking myths about working locums with an agency

Common misconceptions about working locum tenens prevent some physicians from taking advantage of this proven way to earn extra money and have more flexibility in their careers. With the help of three veteran locum physicians, Dr. Trevor Cabrera, Dr. Nicholas Kusnezov, and Dr. Rip Patel, and experienced agency representatives from Global Medical Staffing, we’re debunking some common myths about working with a locum tenens agency.

Infographic - debunking myths about working with an agency

Myth 1: Locums agencies make you sign binding contracts with them

While locum tenens agencies will have you sign an agreement that defines how you’re going to work together for your assignments, the truth is that reputable ones do not lock you into any exclusive contract with them. As Lisa Miller, a senior sales manager at Global Medical Staffing, puts it, “We will never ask you to sign an exclusivity agreement with our agency. While we would love to be the agency you choose for all your assignments, it will always be your choice of which agency you work with. We will never ask you to sign an exclusivity agreement with our agency.”

Dr. Cabrera agrees. “Generally, when working with an agency, there will be a standard provider agreement to go over before signing a contract for an individual job. This agreement tends to be fairly consistent for the industry and helps describe the role of the provider as an independent contractor and not as an employee of the agency. These agreements do not bind you to work with one agency nor that a job that is later offered must be taken.”

Myth 2: Agency placements come with big upfront fees or out-of-pocket costs

The reality is that locum tenens agencies only get paid when you show up for a work assignment. These are transparent and above-board fees that are paid by the employers, not by you. Miller reveals more about the role of the recruiter in this process. “All the job hunting, presentation preparation, interview coaching, and pre-credentialing work your physician recruiter does for you before an offer is even made is done at no cost to you. We share the common goal of getting you a work assignment that meets your needs and preferences.”

Debunking this myth directly, Dr. Kusnezov said, “You collect exactly the compensation you agree to. For certain states, there will be mandatory tax withholding, but this is not money that you pay to the agency. Beyond that, the agency collects whatever they do behind the scenes, and this doesn’t play into your compensation.”

Senior sales manager Gavin Hunter debunks this misconception with a simple statement. “There are zero costs to doctors to work with agencies.”

Pull quote - Gavin Hunter on working with an agency

Myth 3: Agencies take a big percentage of your pay or get you lower rates

While rates tend to vary by region or specialty, many locums physicians report earning more than their peers who work in similar permanent placements. Hunter is quick to point out why this myth is incorrect. “You will still earn industry standard rates if not slightly more by working with an agency. They have more data than doctors alone to be able to justify prevailing rates where certain specialties are in high demand.”

Dr. Cabrera confirms this from his own locums history. “In my experience, locums agencies have been able to negotiate much higher rates than I have been offered by hospitals for the same coverage.”

Pull quote - Dr Cabrera on working with an agency

Miller explains how this is possible. “Most locum doctors are paid better when doing locums through an agency. Because we are recruiting for doctors all day and across the country, we can quickly see upticks in demand and request higher pay in hard-to-fill areas. You will be a 1099 contractor and paid in full on the rates that are listed in your confirmation letter. We send these to you before the assignment even begins so you know what to expect.”

Myth 4: You can find any locums assignment yourself on free job boards

Hunter concedes that most jobs can be found on free boards like Google Jobs, but there’s a catch. He explains, “This tends to be true for per diem jobs, but not so much for vetted locums offerings. A lot of those listings may be outdated. It’s better to get your information from agency sites that you know and trust.”

Miller points out it’s the agency research that makes the difference here. Recruiters continuously research the job market, have deep knowledge of the employers, and can save you a lot of lost time chasing do-it-yourself assignments with less desirable pay or working conditions. Finally, descriptions on free boards tend to be far less detailed and reliable than the due diligence you get from an agency, all at no cost to you.

Myth 5: Agencies add no value so you’re better off finding jobs on your own

The most vital takeaway here is that agencies understand what both doctors and clients need, so they have the built-in advantage of being able to make a more informed match. Veteran locum doctors report that working with a trusted agency empowers them to focus more on the medical care that attracted them to the profession and less on bureaucratic chores. Dr. Patel affirms this idea. “I disagree with this myth for sure. Agencies are a very useful resource for those who want to offload the administrative or business end of their practice.”

Pull quote - Dr Kusnezov on working with an agency

In Dr. Kusnezov’s experience, “The locums agencies take care of virtually everything from contract negotiation, date confirmation, travel, troubleshooting unforeseen issues, to paying you on time. It’s all-inclusive.” Dr. Cabrera has also found a lot of value in working with a locum tenens agency. “The benefit is the experienced group of qualified people behind you that help with the behind-the-scenes work so the provider can focus on the clinical care they provide.”

Pull quote - Lisa Miller on working with a locums agency

One reason why this matters so much is that the right agency will cover your malpractice insurance on assignment and will stand with you if an adverse event arises. Miller says, “When doing locums work without an agency, the individual physician bears all cost and risks associated with malpractice coverage. If something does happen, a physician operating independently will have to navigate the litigation process alone.”

The bottom line about working with an agency

Ultimately, a good agency excels at reducing the amount of legwork you need to put in to work locum tenens. So if you’re concerned about being locked into an exclusivity contract or paying fees, you may find that the benefits of working with a locum tenens agency more often than not outweigh the benefits some physicians find who work locum on their own. “Working with a locums agency gives you access to more than just the recruiter on the other end of the phone,” Miller says. “You gain a team of people set on making your experience of doing locums a positive adventure.”

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