Whether it’s a weekend gig or a long-term assignment, one of the most important parts of a successful locum tenens experience is having a place to stay where you feel safe and comfortable. This comprehensive guide to locum tenens housing will help you find a living situation that’s right for you.
How locum tenens housing works
Who pays for locums housing?
Many staffing agencies cover the cost of fully furnished housing, from deposits to utilities. And since taking a locums assignment usually means leaving the comforts of home, they’ll do their best to find safe, comfortable, and conveniently located temporary accommodations that will help keep any homesickness to a minimum.
If your assignment is a shorter one and you’ll be staying in a hotel, the agency typically pays for room and tax, but you’re usually responsible for paying for incidentals like movie rentals, room service, or other amenities not included with the room rate.
Most agencies also take care of the details involved in housing: the where, how much, deposits, landlords, furnishings — even details you may not think of until you move in, such as, “What will I eat on or use to flip my morning pancakes?”
Another option: The agency you’re working with may offer you a stipend, allowing you to secure your own housing. This option gives you more control over the process, but it will involve more work on your part. If you plan on finding your own accommodations, make sure you research what the staffing agency’s rules are. Some reimburse for the costs of reasonable housing as defined by the assignment contract, while others may provide you with a housing stipend or allowance.
Chelsey Zreliak, who travels with her PA husband Mark Zreliak and their young daughter, prefers to plan their housing, working within a housing stipend their agency gives them.
“I really love to find housing,” she says. “I know some people don’t like to, and I get that it can be stressful, but I enjoy it.”
Once she’s located the perfect location, the agency takes over from there, working out all the other logistics.
Tips from a doctor: How to find the ideal housing for your locums assignment (Weatherby Healthcare)
What type of housing can I expect on a locums assignment?
Once you accept an assignment, the staffing agency will take into consideration the type and length of the assignment when determining where you will stay. Are you taking an assignment just for the weekend or call, or have you chosen an assignment of 30 days or more? Maybe you’re picking up a locums shift to help out at your local hospital and are within driving distance of your own home.
The following are general guidelines of what you can expect from most agencies for the different types of assignments:
- A week or less – a standard hotel room with one bedroom and one standard bathroom
- More than one week to up to 30 days – usually consists of a suite or larger hotel room with a kitchenette
- Longer than 30 days – leased apartment with one bedroom and one bath, furnished with one TV and one bedroom set. Larger apartments with additional furnishings are often available as an upgrade.
For shorter or longer assignments when there are fewer market options, Airbnb or other vacation rentals may be an option, but they tend to offer less flexibility and fewer protections. Occasionally, healthcare facilities have their housing that is available for use by locum tenens providers.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sonya Sloan has worked locum tenens for more than a decade and has stayed in a variety of housing types on her assignments. “I’ve stayed in a house. I’ve had apartments. I’ve had nice townhomes for longer stints. When my kids were younger, I actually took them with me and even a nanny,” she says. “Most recently, extended stay hotels are usually more the norm.”
Many locum tenens travelers choose to travel with their significant others and even their children. The Zreliaks travel with their two young children. Even though they have kids, they still plan on living the locums lifestyle. They’ve found that the agency they’re working with has made it a smooth process, and they haven’t felt it’s ever been an issue to travel as a family.
Key considerations when you take your family on assignment with you:
- Be sure to let the agency planning your housing know early that you will be bringing family
- If the cost of housing to accommodate your additional family members or pets exceeds the housing budget for your assignment, you may be required to pay the difference
Whether your best friend is a cat, dog, or a more exotic pet, most locums agencies will help you find housing that accommodates your traveling companion. However, it’s important to be upfront with your agency.
- Agencies can usually arrange for the accommodation of pets. However, depending on the type and breed, it may be more difficult to find housing that will accept your pet.
- Any pet-related costs will be your responsibility to cover
While housing is typically included in domestic placements, it varies when it comes to those work assignments that are found internationally. Global Medical Staffing describes it this way:
“There are two main ways locum physicians obtain housing — either through the employer or on your own. In the former case, some employers provide a furnished house or apartment as part of the compensation package. These lodgings are typically located near the worksite and, while simple, are clean and comfortable.”
One positive is that housing stipends are often comparable to U.S. compensation. This can be a money-saving avenue for strategic locum tenens providers who book cheaper accommodations than what their stipend allows.
“Housing is more simplistic overseas,” says Diane Wright, Global Medical Staffing international placement supervisor. “Maybe there are fewer conveniences, but we make sure our physicians are comfortable and have a good experience.”
Each locum tenens agency will have their approach and policies, so it’s important to do your research. For instance, Weatherby Healthcare provides an in-depth guide for newbies to provide ample transparency to the housing process for its participants.
Advice for securing your ideal locum tenens housing
Agencies are aware that physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants are individuals with individual needs and preferences who don’t all want the same thing.
It is very important to communicate your requirements — as specifically and openly as possible — to your recruiter and the agency’s travel department so they can best meet your needs. For example, let them know if you’ve had a recent surgery and need special accommodations (do you need to be near an elevator?); do you prefer a ground floor versus an upper-level living space? Would you prefer to be close to the amenities of downtown or just nearer to your assignment?
Other factors to consider: Are you an OB/GYN or another specialist who’ll want to be near the healthcare facility to be able to respond quickly to call?
You or your agency may have found the perfect location, but there’s more they’ll want to know to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible. Be sure to communicate if you want on-site amenities like a fitness center or a pool. Or are you tall and need a king-sized bed so your feet don’t hang over the edge? Do you prefer an on-site washer and dryer? How about an office area?
PA Jason Raehl and his wife, Courtney, really enjoy the housing support they get from their agency. They love walking into a fully furnished house with clean sheets on the bed, kitchenware ready to use, utilities paid, and TV and cable ready to watch.
“We don’t have to deal with the landlords; we don’t deal with a month-to-month lease; and when the assignment is done, we leave and go to the next place. Not spending any money on housing is amazing,” he says.
Dr. Sloan likes having a kitchen and a little extra space. “If it’s longer than a 10-day stint, getting an extended stay that has a full kitchen — and maybe a smaller living room, so you have a little space to live — is really good,” she says.
The key is to ask for what you want. Vlad Dzhashi, MD, also known as The Locum Guy, has one key piece of advice for future locum tenens housing shoppers: “Remember that in the locums business, everything is negotiable, and housing is no exception. And most, if not all, locums companies will agree to rent a decent place for you as long as you ASK FOR IT!”
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nicholas Kusnezov, MD, recommends finding accommodations relatively near your worksite. “Within reason, I often try to pick an accommodation that is close to the hospital. This minimizes transit times and maximizes comfort and convenience. This is particularly important if you are getting called back to the hospital frequently. The last thing you want to do is spend an inordinate amount of time commuting between your lodging and the hospital, which wastes not only time but gas and mileage.”
While specifics are helpful, the more flexible you are about your wants and requirements, the more housing options will be available. There are definitely things you shouldn’t compromise on, but occasionally, it’s helpful to think twice about those things that are really “needs,” versus just “would-be-nice-to-haves.”
What to do after you arrive at your locum tenens housing
Veteran locum tenens emergency medicine physician Dr. Ripal Patel loves the locums lifestyle and has chosen to use a combination of hotels (for rewards points) and Airbnbs, which he calls a “stellar combination to make it far more enjoyable.” He says he’s sure to read the reviews for the Airbnbs before he chooses one.
When Dr. Patel stays in hotels, he says, “I stay where there’s a kitchen, and I bring my knife set and some spices. It’s far more cost-effective, healthier, and cheaper than eating out.”
Pediatrician Dr. Trevor Cabrera, MD, agrees, and takes his kitchen recommendations one step further and encourages locum tenens to bring along your “travel kitchen.”
“As an amateur chef, being able to bring my mini portable kitchen from place to place, complete with my favorite chef’s knife, allows me to cook and make simple things on the go. This always brings me back to the days of having a consistently full kitchen.”
He also recommends bringing your blanket, pillow, candle, and framed picture of family or friends to make your locum tenens house feel like a home.
Access to amenities such as an on-site gym or spa can significantly improve your downtime — but only if you take advantage of them.
“Fitness is an important aspect of my life and having a hotel gym is important to optimize my downtime. Additionally, if your family comes with you, they would certainly enjoy a nice hotel breakfast, movies, and time at the pool,” says Dr. Kusnesov.
Laundry can catch up with us even when we are not working crazy hours. To make one item on your to-do list even simpler, consider packing outfits that coordinate well with each other (a capsule wardrobe) and items that are made with fabrics that wash well, like cotton or polyester.
You can often use hotel washing machines to clean your clothes, but you may be limited on the time of day you can use them — and they may be older and not as high quality as your machine at home.
Learn more: Tips for hotel living during a locums assignment (Weatherby Healthcare)
Since locum tenens are 1099 contract employees, some travel and housing expenses may be tax deductible. As always, we recommend consulting with your tax advisor for more information.
Read on: Physician’s guide to working as an independent contractor (CompHealth)
For the best locum tenens housing experience, ask questions and do your research. A few tips:
- Ask the locums agency if the property has been used for other assignments and if others have had positive experiences there
- Look at reviews on third-party sites like Trip Advisor
- For rentals, see if you can visit the location before you move in. For longer assignments, your agency will often allow you to stay in a hotel to visit the location and evaluate for safety, quality, and comfort before closing on a lease
While every staffing agency handles locum tenens housing a little differently, they all have the same goal: to ensure you’re as comfortable as possible and feel at home when you’re not on the job. For specifics on how housing will work for your circumstances, give your staffing agency a call.
Updated Dec. 5, 2023