Doctors choose to work locum tenens for many reasons: to pay down student loans more quickly, to increase contributions to their retirement accounts, or even just to make a little extra money while taking a working vacation. We already explained how traveling to your locum tenens assignment works, but where do you stay once you’ve arrived? What will it cost? Can you bring your family along? We answer these questions and more in this comprehensive look at locum tenens housing.
Many staffing agencies cover the cost of housing, from deposits to utilities and even furnishings if needed. 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 to pay for incidentals like movie rentals, room service, or other amenities not included with the room rate.
Who does what?
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?” Can’t get enough of The Bachelor? Well, you’ll need something to watch it on.
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 two-year-old daughter, prefers to plan their own 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.
What type of housing to expect
Once you accept an assignment, the staffing agency will take into consideration the type and length of assignment when determining where you will stay. Are you taking an assignment just for the weekend 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 to 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
- Extending 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 own 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.”
Communicating your preferences
Agencies are aware that physicians, NPs, and PAs are individuals with individual needs and preferences who don’t all want the same thing (not all of us like The Bachelor).
It is very important to communicate your personal 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 in close proximity to the healthcare facility?
Even minor details are important
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 want the mattress to be hard or soft? 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. Sonya 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 value of being flexible
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.”
Make it your own
Veteran locum tenens physician Dr. Ripal Patel loves the locums lifestyle and has chosen to use a combination of hotels (for reward points) and Airbnbs, which he calls a “stellar combination to making 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.”
What about family?
Many locum tenens travelers choose to travel with their significant others, and even their children. The Zreliaks travel with their daughter Claire, and they’re expecting their second child. They still plan on living the locums lifestyle. They’re 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 up front with your agency.
- Agencies can usually arrange for 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
Educate yourself – and be prepared
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 likes 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
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.
For more help
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 individual circumstances, give your staffing agency a call.
Updated Nov. 11, 2021