Have you heard about locum tenens? Locums physicians act as "placeholders" in clinics and hospitals that need temporary help. Doctors may work locum tenens in addition to a regular job (moonlighting) or move from one assignment to another, traveling to different destinations and experiencing a variety of practice environments. If you've considered joining the approximately 50,000 locum tenens physicians in the US, here are five tips to get you started.
Why work locum tenens? This decision depends on your stage of career. For example, newly graduated residents may travel to a part of the country they have never seen or experiment with different types of practices. Mid-career docs often need extra income or want to test the waters for a practice change. Pre-retirement physicians may wish to cut back a little, but their full-time job won't permit a part-time option. As a locum tenens physician, how often you work is up to you.
A staffing agent can offer invaluable assistance, particularly if this is your first foray into the world of locum tenens. When you chat with an agent, ask questions and communicate your needs. Agents focus on certain medical specialties, and it's their job to know the market. Agents work on commission, so there's no cost to you.
Select a staffing agency that belongs to the National Association of Locum Tenens Organization (NALTO), which sets standards and sound business practices for locum tenens companies. Two NALTO members that I have contracted with are CompHealth and Staffcare. See the NALTO website for an updated list of NALTO staffing agencies.
3. Where and when?
Decide where you want to travel and your timeframe. Once your agent knows where and when you wish to work, he or she will search for an appropriate opportunity that fits your schedule and offers the best compensation.
Give yourself some lead-time. Once you've chosen a location and dates, make sure you have the corresponding state medical license. Licensing can take six months or more, even for well-qualified candidates with no malpractice history. Medical license boards verify all prior licenses and work experience, which can drag out the process for physicians who have worked in more than one location.
You will also need a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) number to prescribe controlled substances. Depending upon the state, a Controlled Substance for Practitioners (CSP) number may also be required. Hospital privileges are next, which can take a month or more.
5. Be flexible
With your fresh eye, some hospital procedures may seem inefficient and in desperate need of improvement. It's important to remember that as a temporary physician, you're not there to improve the workplace. Your well-intended input may not even be welcome! One piece of advice that I've heard from other locum tenens physicians is to "act like a guest in someone else's house." Come to work with a smile, provide excellent patient care, and treat staff with respect. That foolproof approach will reap many rewards.
Locum tenens physicians work temporary assignments in a variety of locations while earning a respectable income.