How to have a successful locum tenens assignment

Illustration prepare to work locum tenens

Whether you’re a seasoned medical professional considering a career shift or a new graduate exploring options in the healthcare field, you may have come across a common term: locum tenens. Typically associated with flexible work schedules, diverse clinical experiences, and opportunities to travel, locum tenens roles offer an appealing career route.

Here’s our best advice on how to have a successful locum tenens assignment, with insights from five medical professionals who have pursued these opportunities themselves.

Selecting a locum tenens assignment

Prep your resume and be ready to interview

Like any other field, landing the desired locum tenens position requires a standout resume or curriculum vitae. In general, make sure that your CV is current and that your first page captures the essentials like your education, residency, fellowships, and up-to-date board certifications and licenses. Also include your employment history, as well as any past locum tenens experience, and do some extra prep so you’ll nail any virtual interviews.

Consider using a locum tenens agency to find a job

Navigating the healthcare job market can be a complex and time-consuming process, particularly when exploring opportunities in the realm of locum tenens. Tapping into the knowledge and resources of a professional agency can bring a multitude of benefits to the table, streamlining your job search process, and aiding you to make the most out of your healthcare career.

Benefits of using a locum tenens agency include:

  • Expert help finding jobs that are the right fit
  • Ongoing support and encouragement, even after you’ve accepted an offer
  • Someone there to do all the logistical heavy lifting of job application management

Communicate preferences to your locum tenens recruiter

Infectious disease physician Dr. RK Devlin points out that one step to ensuring a positive locum tenens experience is to clearly communicate your practice and travel preferences to your work placement agency.

“Being honest about the type and amount of work you want to do is imperative, as those choices allow your recruiter to match you with a job opportunity that best meets your expectations.”

As an example, Dr. Devlin gave these points of preference to his recruiter: “My assignment preference is to work on an inpatient infectious disease consultative service at a smaller community-based teaching institution. I don’t like working more than seven days in a row, more than two weeks a month, or more than three to six months total. And I have no interest in overtime.”

Evaluate locums offers with intention

It’s crucial not to rush into accepting a locum tenens job offer without a careful evaluation. Take a step back and ask your recruiter for more insights on the compensation package and the culture at your potential new workplace. Other considerations include the facility’s website, reputation, and online presence; if there are any additional bonuses or incentives on top of the base pay; what benefits are offered; the patient load and complexity; contract terms, such as non-compete or restrictive clauses, and more.

Negotiate the contract to fit your desired schedule, work/life balance, salary, and more.

Once you have accepted a locums assignment

Know assignment details before you go

Pediatrician Dr. Trevor Cabrera advises both first-time and seasoned locum tenens doctors to know specifics about where you’ll be working.

Whether this is your first locum tenens assignment or you’re a locum tenens pro, it’s important to know specifics about where you’ll be working. Here are some of the things you’ll want to know before you go:

  • Administrative details, such as where the medical service officer is located
  • Information technology. Who do you reach out to for sorting computer problems quickly?

One other tip? Review hospital maps. “Regardless of your specialty, finding your way around a new place is important. You’ll want to know how to reach the emergency room, different departments, and of course, where the bathroom is.”

Verify your assignment schedule

Pull quote Dr Kusnezov

“Always verify that your schedules match prior to arrival, as there are a number of middlemen involved in this process, and as a result, it is not uncommon for assignment dates to be erroneously changed or dropped between you, the locums company, and the institution,” says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nicholas Kusnezov.

Dr. Cabrera notes that if your schedule is incongruous with your expectations, you should contact your recruiter as soon as possible so they can correct any errors.

You can take your schedule confirmations one step further and keep things running smoothly by also verifying a point of contact for receiving and signing out for your locum tenens commitment duration. Dr. Kusnezov notes, “This ensures continuity and the best possible patient care.”

Gather and organize your paperwork

Dr. Cabrera also advises locum tenens workers to come prepared with the right paperwork to streamline your onboarding experience and have digital copies available of all your documents where they are easily accessible.

He notes: After working locum tenens for so long, I’ve found these documents are always required:

  • Medical/DEA licenses
  • Life-saving certifications, such as BLS, ACLS, and PALS
  • Credentials, such as one’s badge or pictures of one’s board certification and licensing or NPI
  • Personal identification.
  • COVID-19/flu vaccination cards.

Note that paperwork requirements vary state to state, so do your research ahead of time.

What to bring with you on a locum tenens assignment

Beyond a neatly organized stack of paperwork, Dr. Cabrera and other seasoned locum tenens professionals recommend packing items like the following into your suitcase:

  • Stethoscope and any advanced medical supplies needed for your specialty, like an otoscope or GlideScope
  • Technology — “Having an extra portable charger or hotspot can be a welcome addition in some of the more rural areas that have less-reliable service,” says Dr. Cabrera
  • Appropriate clothing for the climate in the destination of your assignment — “Getting stuck in a blizzard without snow boots is never a pleasant thing,” quips Dr. Cabrera.

When flying, consider carrying your essential work items on the plane. This minimizes the risk of them going missing. If you’re planning on driving to your assignment or renting a car upon arrival, consider arranging emergency roadside assistance or travel insurance.

Ever wonder how locum tenens pros pack for their assignments? This veteran locum shares his packing tips:

What to do during your locum tenens assignment

The first week

Family physician Dr. Colin Zhu has overcome the first-week jitters enough to pass along helpful advice to anyone embarking on a new locum tenens assignment.

Pull quote Dr Zhu preparing for locum tenens assignment

“It is imperative that you receive enough time and training with their electronic medical record or EMR. Your familiarity with the EMR will determine how long your onboarding with the computer system will be. It is essential during this time that you take the time to familiarize yourself — especially if you are new to the EMR — so you can be at your maximum comfort level before seeing patients. Always remember to ask questions, and please do not be shy about it.”

Emergency medicine physician Dr. Rip Patel concurs: “A painful EMR will make for painful clinical practice. Trust me.”

Once you’ve completed your computer orientation, Dr. Zhu recommends figuring out where your desk will be and settling in. Ask for any missing items or to have your workplace preferences met (such as a standing desk), if possible. Familiarize yourself with all the staff members of the office, most importantly with your medical assistants and nurses.

Be considerate of coworkers and patients alike

Make a solid first impression, including dressing appropriately for the job, arriving on time and ready for work, and introducing yourself to colleagues and staff.

“I would recommend business attire for the first day — after which the expectations and policy of the facility or clinic, hospital, and OR attire can be established,” suggests Dr. Kusnezov.

Be an active listener who is respectful and professional in all interactions, asking for clarification when needed (no one expects you to be an expert from day one!). Actively acquaint yourself with the facility’s policies and procedures before making suggestions and adapt to existing workflows.

Importantly, it’s helpful when new locums stay flexible and open to feedback. This will help you provide the most compassionate and patient-centered care possible.

Try to relax

“So how does one overcome the greatest hurdle of locums work: starting new on that first day? Your mind is streaming with the ‘what-ifs,’ honed in on everything that will go wrong. Having worked in six states and over 30 different ERs, I will tell you quite frankly: chill out. Those what-ifs are likely not going to happen,” shares Dr. Patel.

Pull quote Dr Patel

After your locum tenens assignment

Take stock of the experience

Now that this locum tenens assignment is behind you, do some reflecting. What did you learn about your likes and dislikes from this work arrangement? Clarifying your learned preferences can help simplify future job hunts.

Update your CV and network for future assignments

It’s time to add this latest work experience to your resume and portfolio and expand your network strategically by reaching out to colleagues and supervisors for connections or recommendations.

Plan your next locum tenens move

It’s time to start making plans for your next locum tenens assignment or the next stage of your career. With more experience under your belt, you are well equipped to make new decisions that factor in your desired location, facility type, or patient population; the length and timing that works for your schedule; and whether you can fulfill the required qualifications or certifications. You’ll be back at the bedside before you know it.

Get the latest locums news delivered to your inbox.