There has never been a better time to become a locum tenens physician. Currently, more temporary positions exist than physicians to fill them. But not every assignment will fit your skill set and desires. Whether it’s your first locum tenens assignment or it’s time to schedule the next one, you want to do a little homework to increase the likelihood of a successful experience. Here are six key points to consider before you choose to accept a locum tenens assignment.
What motivates you?
Identify your motivation before agreeing to a contract. For example, are you looking for short-term work to pay a student loan or to test out a hospital for a potential permanent position? In the former situation, you may prioritize the hourly wage. In the latter, you might forgo top dollar to further long-term goals. If it’s a combination of work/life balance you’re after, consider an assignment near a favorite vacation spot. Whether you enjoy locum tenens will have a great deal to do with your expectations.
How to find a locum tenens assignment
Most locums physicians enlist a staffing agency to connect them with the right jobs. Another option is to contract directly with a clinic or hospital, but I don’t recommend this route for beginners. If you do use a staffing agency, make sure it belongs to the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO). NALTO sets standards for ethical business practices in the highly competitive locum tenens market.
Understand your responsibilities
Employment descriptions are often vague. The human resources personnel who write them may not truly understand the job. Although seasoned staffing agents may help, their insights may also be limited.
Before you sign on the dotted line, you must know your responsibilities.
- How many patients are you expected to see per day?
- Will you return to the hospital after hours for emergencies?
- If so, will that be every night or just occasionally?
- Will you have any help, such as a physician assistant or nurse practitioner?
- Will you field phone calls from affiliated clinics or local ERs?
- Will you have to renew prescriptions for patients you’ve never seen?
- Which electronic medical record system will you use?
- Who is your backup should things get out of hand?
Make sure you know what you are getting into before you choose to accept the locum tenens assignment.
Other ways to learn about the assignment
As a final step, a physician or administrator at the hospital or clinic will interview you by phone. During the call, present yourself as accommodating and professional. Nonetheless, don’t hesitate to ask some of the critical questions mentioned above.
Because many locum tenens positions recur, there may be physicians who have previously worked the same assignment. Ask your agent to connect you. There is no better way to reveal the nitty-gritty than speaking with a colleague. Ask why the doctor has chosen not to return. Perhaps it was for personal or scheduling reasons. On the other hand, if the doc was unhappy at the worksite, you may want to choose another locum tenens assignment.
How to get ready
If you’ve got a clear destination in mind, apply for the relevant state license. This process can be a chore, and it’s best to start early. Clients always prefer candidates who already possess the appropriate state license. Don’t worry about transferring your DEA number from another state. You can update your DEA registration online.
Ask your agent about housing. If it’s a hotel chain like Best Western or Hilton, get a rewards number. Same for the rental car and plane. I earned quite a few hotel nights working locums that came in handy on a cross-country vacation.
Last but not least, make sure your skill set is up to date. That always includes Basic Life Support (BLS) and often additional certifications such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS), depending upon your specialty. If you’re a neurologist like me and assigned to a headache clinic, make sure you brush up on your Botox technique and new migraine treatments!
Red flags to watch for
Here are three red flags that signal a less than optimal assignment:
- No one wants it.
- Physicians have left before the end of the contract.
- Even though other locums docs have worked the same assignment, somehow your agent can’t find one to speak to you.
Get the right match
With so many available locum tenens positions, it’s essential to match your skills and desires with the right one. A little due diligence increases the likelihood of a satisfying and rewarding assignment. If you would like to read the best and worst job experiences of more than a dozen locum tenens physicians, check out Chapter 20 in my new book, The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens.