choosing a locum tenens agency

Expert Tips for Choosing a Locum Tenens Agency

As a healthcare provider, there’s no shortage of options when you’re looking for locum tenens opportunities. Some providers contract directly with facilities, but for others, working with a healthcare staffing agency makes more sense. Here’s how to make choosing a locum tenens agency an easy decision.

Why Work With a Locum Tenens Agency?

Before we get into how to choose a locum tenens staffing agency, let’s talk about why you might want to work with one.

When you work with a staffing agency, you have an opportunity to get your CV in front of hundreds of companies instead of only a few. You also have an “in-between” to help work through the logistics of each position. If you decide to go with an agency, you always have someone on your side to work on your behalf to help secure positions and make sure they are successful.

We’ll get into more of the benefits below, but to name a few, the staffing agency will likely coordinate all housing and travel, provide medical malpractice insurance, and help negotiate the terms of your assignment.

How Many Agencies Can You Work With?

Many providers who are new to locum tenens work wonder how many companies they can work with when choosing an agency. As a locum tenens provider, you are legally considered a sub-contractor with the agencies that you work with; meaning you own your own company for which you provide medical services to facilities.

Your locum tenens staffing agency works as the conduit to match healthcare providers with medical assignments healthcare facilities or other companies are trying to fill.

This means that you can work with as many agencies as you want to, but you’ll likely want to stick to just one or two agencies. Since you’ll work with different people from different agencies and will be arranging different working assignments over varied periods, it can become confusing to work with too many staffing agencies at once.

Are You Legally Able to Work in the States the Agency Staffs?

choosing a locum tenens agencyKnowing which states or countries you want to work in and learning if the staffing agency you are interested in works in those areas is one of the first things you’ll want to consider.

Depending on your occupation, unless you can qualify for an Interstate Licensure Compact (for physicians), you’ll likely need to apply for licenses in multiple states. This can become costly to do if you’d like to work in several states throughout the U.S.

If you’re unsure which states you should work in, it can be a good idea to talk to colleagues who work as locum tenens. You could take it a step further and reach out to agencies who are posting the positions, as well, to get more information about what it’s like to work where the jobs are located. Doing some old-fashioned internet browsing is also recommended to get a clear picture of areas that are appealing or not for you.

At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we staff positions in the Northwest United States and Alaska. Many of our positions in Alaska are in extremely rural or frontier areas. For many of our providers, an Alaska license is a must-have so they can experience what it’s like to practice medicine in the “Last Frontier” state. However, the austerity of Alaska isn’t for everyone, and some providers choose not to become licensed there. Since we staff in additional states, we work with those providers to find positions that are better suited to them.

Locum tenens staffing agencies typically work with multiple states, so you have plenty of choices for where to take assignments.

What Kind of Work Do You Want?

A big deciding factor of which staffing agency to work with depends on the type of work you want. Different agencies specialize in working with different specialties or occupations. Some agencies staff globally and some staff more niche positions, based on the location or position type.

You want to make sure that whichever staffing agency you work with knows how to staff individuals with your unique skills, education, and experience.

For instance, at WMS, we help medical facilities to staff many solo-provider assignments. Working as a solo provider can take years of emergency experience after formal training, along with additional certifications. This is a bonus for many of our providers who have dreamed of taking on the challenge of solo-provider work, but it’s a specialty that’s not a fit for every healthcare provider.

When you’re choosing a staffing agency, be sure they work with your profession and have jobs for the specialties you may wish to work in. Having a clear idea of what types of positions you’re looking for and where you’d like to work can help you to decide which staffing agency to work with.

How Much Does it Cost to Work With a Locum Tenens Agency?

As a locum tenens, with any agency you choose to work with, there should be no cost to you for working with the agency. Staffing agencies make money through the clients who pay for the service of having the staffing agency assist them with finding qualified providers. Staffing agencies often have much broader access to providers than individual facilities do, so it not only opens the provider pool up to better qualified candidates, but it also takes some of the work off their internal staff.

Due to your status as an independent contractor, you will typically need to pay for medical licenses, DEA registrations, or any other mandatory credentialing for the facilities. You may also be required to pay for background checks or pre-screening services before an agency will work with you. However, payments for these services should be paid directly to the organizations granting the service and usually not the staffing facility.

These are standard fees for working in various states and with certain facilities depending on your occupation. Any costs you may be responsible for should be communicated to you upfront by the staffing agency so there are no surprises.

The staffing agency that you work with should also cover medical malpractice insurance while you are on assignment. As a provider, you should not be responsible for this cost.

Typically, once you’ve gotten through the process and your paperwork is up to date in a certain state, you won’t need to reapply for a few years, saving you some money.

It’s advisable to discuss any costs you may incur as a locum tenens with your staffing agency before you begin applying to assignments.

How Easily Can You Apply to Positions?

Since locum tenens are often looking for new positions to round out their work schedule, you want to make sure that finding and applying to positions is simple. If you find that it’s too cumbersome to learn about positions or submit your information for them, you may want to look at working with a different agency.

Many times, staffing agencies will reach out to you when they have a position open that they feel you are qualified for and may be interested in. After all, filling positions is a win for everyone involved – the clients, the provider, and the agency!

We post new open jobs for physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners on our website. View our current Open Jobs to learn more and apply.

How Do You Get Paid?

The staffing agency you choose to work with should have informed you of your pay rates before you take any assignment. Typically, you will invoice and be paid by the staffing agency for the work you do. This is often set up via direct deposit, making it easy to get paid while you’re traveling from job to job.

As an independent contractor, you’ll want to talk to a skilled accountant or financial advisor about how filing taxes will be different as a contractor vs. an on-staff employee.

What About Travel and Housing?

This can vary depending on the staffing agency you are working with, but your travel and housing will often be paid for by the staffing agency or client. In some instances, you may pay for housing or travel, but will be reimbursed. Your staffing agency representative should clearly explain details regarding housing and travel to you.

When choosing a staffing agency, be sure they clearly explain the situation for travel and housing and if you’ll be responsible for paying upfront for any of it, so you don’t have any surprises while on assignment. If you find that the staffing agency does not clearly communicate with you about travel and housing for assignments, you likely want to find a different agency.

How is the Staffing Agency’s Staff Paid?

This may seem like an intrusive question to ponder when choosing a locum tenens staffing agency, but it’s worth considering. Often, employees who work for staffing agencies are paid based on commission. However, this isn’t always the case.

At WMS, no one on our team is commission-based. This keeps our internal team from being pitted against one another to bring in the most providers or the most clients. Instead, we work together to find the best providers for our clients’ open assignments.

While there is no right or wrong business model when it comes to the internal teams’ pay, it can be worthwhile to research, so you know the motivation behind how the staffing agency will be working for you.

How Experienced is the Staffing Agency?

how to choose a locum tenens agencyAs your choosing a locum tenens agency, you may want to dig deeper into the staffing agencies that you’re interested in working with to see how long they have been in business. Every company must start somewhere but working with a company with at least a few years of experience can be beneficial. (Our team at WMS has over 165 years of combined healthcare and staffing experience, along with experience with rural facilities.)

You might also want to see if their staff has experience in working for staffing agencies or working in healthcare.

You’ll often be able to get a good indicator of the size of the staffing agency when doing your research. Choosing a large agency over a small one is often a personal preference, but one isn’t necessarily better than another. While larger agencies may have more positions to choose from, you may get more one-on-one attention with smaller agencies.

It’s often more important to consider things like longevity, staff turnover, online reviews, and if the agency seems like they will be a good fit for you overall.

Do You Like the Staffing Agency’s Staff?

This is a big question to ask yourself. When you first begin to do your research into choosing a locum tenens agency, you’ll likely work with a recruiter from their team.

Your first point of contact at the agency can be a great indicator of what working with the agency will be like. Do you like who you’ve spoken with? Did they answer all your questions? Were they knowledgeable and friendly? Did you get any red flags?

Since the staffing agency will be representing you to clients, you want to make sure that they have a vested interest in you as a person, and not just what you can do for their clients.

When you’re first talking with a team member, it can be worth asking them if you’ll be working with anyone besides a recruiter or what the process typically looks like when working with the agency. They should be able to explain it to you, so you can decide if you’ll be a good fit or not. (Learn more about Wilderness Medical Staffing’s provider process here.)

How is the Staffing Agency with Communication?

Especially if you’re new to locum tenens, you may have a lot of questions to ask the staffing agency you’re working with. We get it! There are a lot of moving pieces to everything we do, all the time! If you have a question and you call or email, do you get a timely response? Do the staffing agency representatives take the time to answer your questions?

Do they communicate with you about new positions? Are they easy to reach when you need to get in touch? If you are finding sub-standard communication with the staffing agency before the position, it can be a red flag for when you’re on assignment. Be sure that whoever you’re working with is communicative and easy to talk to before you begin any position.

Ultimately, choosing a locum tenens agency depends on your career goals, needs, and wants. While there are plenty of staffing agencies to choose from, you’ll want to make sure that you feel comfortable and supported with whichever one(s) you work with.


Are you interested in learning how Wilderness Medical Staffing can help to further your career as a locum tenens contracted medical provider?

At WMS, we are transparent with our open assignments and provide critical details (including pay) upfront and in clear terms. We also have in-depth knowledge of the areas we staff, allowing us to give you an accurate picture of what you’re signing up for. Reach out to us. We’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Learn more about locum tenens