New to locums? Here’s some advice from a locum tenens pro

Illustration of two locums doctors, one new to locum tenens, the other a locum tenens pro

Gregory Charlop, MD, is a burnout expert and the author of The Physician Wellness Project. He’s a private practice anesthesiologist in Atlanta, GA. Here he offers his advice for doctors interested in locum tenens.

NEW: For Locumstory readers, he’s offering a 50% discount for his course, How to Succeed with Locum Tenens. Just use code LOCUMSTORY50 when you register.

So, you’ve decided to give locums a go. Congrats! As a physician who has practiced locum tenens across the country, I can honestly say that I enjoy it more than my day job. I love the variety, schedule control, no-call lifestyle, meeting new people, and traveling. You’ll find it a fun and rewarding experience.

But before you start your first gig, I want to give you some helpful expectations and questions to ask before you sign the dotted line.

What does working locum tenens look like?

Locum tenens is a fun way to meet new people and explore fresh ways to practice medicine. Once you complete your first assignment, you’ll be a much more confident and nimble physician. On top of that, you’ll make new friends!

For assignments that aren’t local, expect to travel

Unless you take a locums assignment in your city, you will travel for work. It might involve flights, hotels, and even trips to new states. Many doctors find the adventure the best part of locums. Note: if you don’t want to travel and live in a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Dallas, you can almost certainly find local locum assignments. Conversely, if you live in a small town or want to see other parts of the country, traveling may be the name of the game.

Infographic of what locum physicians should expect working locum tenens

Prepare like the full-time locums do: Traveling for a locum tenens physician

You’ll be welcomed with open arms!

After all, if you didn’t show up, they couldn’t take a vacation, or the healthcare facility couldn’t expand their services.

You must be flexible

If you’re the type of person who requires particular devices or protocols, you might find locum tenens a struggle. For example, one of my old hospital colleagues insisted that we had to use one specific IV catheter, or it would be unsafe. Needless to say, she probably wouldn’t enjoy locum tenens.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

Doctors are in demand, and you have tremendous leverage. Potential areas of negotiation include hourly rate, minimum daily compensation, shift cancellation policy, call requirements, expected minimum or maximum number of shifts per month, start date, and job responsibilities.

Locum tenens assignments typically pay more

Locum tenens agencies generally provide malpractice insurance with a tail. However, they don’t usually offer health insurance. So, if you ever wanted to go 100% locums, you could probably get by without your own malpractice policy, but you would need health insurance.

You can find an assignment that meets your needs

For example, you might be able to cluster your days together or spread them out throughout the month, depending on what works best for you and the site. You often can work more or fewer hours, depending on your availability and financial goals.

Key questions to ask before taking an assignment

Infographic of questions a physician should ask before working a locums assignment

What’s the expected time commitment?

Don’t be afraid to ask when shifts start and end, the expected number of days per week/month, and whether you’d have to work weekends/holidays. Tailor your questions for your goals. In other words, if you want to work as little as possible because of other commitments, ask for the minimum permissible number of days per month you can work. If you’re saving to buy a new house, see if you can take extra hours.

Is call required, optional, or not available?

Be sure you’re clear on the expectations.

What is the compensation structure?

Payment is typically per hour, with a minimum number of paid hours daily. For example, they will pay you X dollars per hour with a six- to eight-hour minimum paid daily. Although this is not universal, they may have special rates for overtime, weekends, holidays, and call. Some assignments will have different compensation packages, such as a daily or weekly rate.

How is travel arranged and paid for?

Do they book, or do you? Who pays what? What quality of the hotel is acceptable? Is there a daily food allowance? Will they rent you a car?

How long is the assignment expected to last?

Note: This will only be a guess. In most cases, there’s no way for the locum tenens company or the site to know with certainty how long a temporary employee will be required.

Is supervision part of the job?

How does it work? For example, if you’re an anesthesiologist, will you do your cases or supervise CRNAs? If you’re an internist, will you see your own patients or supervise PAs and NPs? How many?

Are there any special skills or competencies required?

For example, if you’re a pediatrician, will you be required to do circumcisions? If you’re a surgeon, will you be expected to perform cases you’re uncomfortable with?

Why do they need someone?

Is a provider out sick? Maternity leave? Expanded services? Is it that they can’t retain doctors because nobody wants to work in that facility?

May I speak to someone who works there?

The representative from the locum tenens company is well-meaning and will do their best to share the job details, but there’s nothing like speaking to someone who works at the facility.

Let them know if you require any special accommodations

Be sure to mention that upfront.

Finally, enjoy your locum tenens journey!

If you ask the right questions, you’ll find countless locum tenens opportunities that match your needs and skillset. Now, go out there, make new friends, and have fun!

Get the latest locums news delivered to your inbox.