Locum tenens offers a different way to practice medicine. Rather than owning a private practice or working as an employee for someone else, the locum is a self-employed contractor who offers his or her services to facilities with temporary staffing needs. You can consider it freelance work if that helps you to understand the principle better.
Who works locum tenens? Some locums are employed clinicians just looking to earn some extra money on the side. Others are brand-new doctors just out of residency and hoping to get their feet wet before deciding on a more permanent situation. Others are seasoned clinicians using locum tenens to transition to retirement. Still others are career locums who never looked back once they got started.
If you are considering locum tenens, you can approach it in one of two ways. You can work with staffing agencies or go it alone as a completely independent contractor looking to do everything yourself. Both options are equally valid.
Working Through Staffing Agencies
The majority of locum tenens clinicians work through staffing agencies. Doing so is attractive for a lot of different reasons. For starters, staffing agencies do most of the legwork, freeing up clinicians to practice medicine without having to worry about the details of being a self-employed contractor.
Staffing agencies usually do the following, at minimum:
- Search out open assignments
- Search out and arrange housing
- Cover transportation costs
- Handle credentialing paperwork
- Handle licensing issues
- Offer full or partial compensation for insurance.
The locum’s two biggest responsibilities under this sort of arrangement are to negotiate contract details and then show up for work. If problems should arise between locum and employer, staffing agencies will sometimes offer to step in and mediate solutions. After all, they want both happy clients and happy clinicians.
The other approach to locum tenens is to work independently. As an independent locum, you handle everything on your own. It is your responsibility to find assignments and negotiate contracts. It is your responsibility to arrange for your own housing and transportation. And of course, you pay for it all, along with your own medical malpractice insurance.
Why would someone choose to work independently? There isn’t just one reason. There are as many different reasons as there are locums working this way. For starters, complete independence gives the locum tenens clinician complete freedom as well. He or she is not obligated to staffing agencies in any way, shape, or form.
Another big reason that rarely gets talked about is the fact that truly independent locums find it a lot easier to completely fill their schedules without ever leaving home. Where staffing agencies are looking at assignments all over the country, the independent locum can work with local facilities in need of their services. A couple of key connections could lead to a lifetime of work with no travel required.
There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches. Neither one is necessarily superior or inferior to the other. It really boils down to how the clinician wants to approach life as a locum. For the least amount of hassle and the largest selection of assignments, go with a staffing agency. If you are looking for complete freedom and independence, go it alone.
Also note that you do not have to stick with your first choice. If you choose one approach and it does not work out well, you can always scrap it and try the other. That is the beauty of locum tenens work. You are never locked in to one way of doing things.