If you’re considering working as a locum tenens healthcare provider, you may have questions about travel. From how it gets booked to who pays for it and what happens if something goes wrong, travel could be a make-or-break consideration for which staffing agency you work with or which assignments you take. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about rural locum tenens travel with Wilderness Medical Staffing.
About Traveling as a Locum Tenens
One of the main reasons people get into locum tenens work is because they crave a different lifestyle and want to have opportunities to travel. Different staffing agencies will staff assignments in different areas, so as a healthcare provider, you’ll want to work with an agency that staffs locations you’d like to travel to.
At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we specialize in staffing rural and remote facilities in the Northwest United States and Alaska. For healthcare providers that want real adventures, these types of locations are full of them! Many times, travel is where the adventure begins!
Rural locum tenens travel can often be a more intricate feat than traveling to urban areas. There aren’t straight flights to many of the islands in Alaska, for starters. Sometimes getting to your assignment takes a bit of creativity and patience, but it’ll be worth it when you are able to help these communities in need!
Who Pays for Travel?
Healthcare professionals often want to know who pays for your travel. Ultimately, the client will pay for your travel. However, it will likely be paid for initially by the staffing agency that is booking it.
If you’re not working with Wilderness Medical Staffing, you’ll want to talk with your staffing agency (or if you’re not using an agency, the healthcare facility) about who foots the bill for travel expenses and what’s included.
Who Reserves the Travel Reservations?
While this may differ from agency to agency, at Wilderness Medical Staffing, we’ll take care of all your travel arrangements. We work with a travel agency to book your specific travel needs after collecting all relevant information from you. We’ll coordinate with you on approving the specific travel suggested, including airfare, car rentals, and hotels (when needed).
Clients will typically not book travel for providers (although there are exceptions), but they may supply you with additional modes of transportation upon arrival to an assignment. We’ll talk more about that later in this article.
What Airline Class Will I Travel?
We can’t speak for every staffing agency, but our providers will travel economy class. If you would prefer to travel business or first class, we will deposit the price of the economy ticket into your account, so you can book your upgraded flight. This may be a circumstance where you, as the provider, will pay a portion of the travel expenses.
What About Car Rentals?
We will also book your car rental for you through a reputable car rental company under your name. Rental car travel will be reimbursed by us when working with Wilderness Medical Staffing. This may differ from other staffing agencies.
Not every rural locum tenens travel assignment requires a car rental. For instance, if your assignment is on a small, remote island in Alaska, the medical facility will likely provide a vehicle if you need to get around the village.
Due to many of our assignments requiring travel through mountain passes or in wintry conditions, we make every attempt to rent 4-wheel drive vehicles that will be safe to drive to your assignment, when driving is the best mode of transportation to reach your destination.
You may also want to talk to your car insurance agency to make sure that you have any necessary insurance policies just in case you’re in an accident. While most personal policies will also cover the driver if they are renting a vehicle, it’s always a good idea to be proactive to make sure that you have coverage if you need it. You can also check with your credit card company, as they will sometimes have rental car coverage, as well.
Other Modes of Transportation
Keeping in mind that our providers sometimes work in extremely remote and rural locations, cars and planes aren’t always the only modes of travel! To reach your destination, or sometimes patients, you may travel via boat, ferry, helicopter, or snowmachine (snowmobile). Sometimes, the fastest way for our providers to travel in Alaska is via dog sled! (Our providers can get quite an adventure out of their assignments!)
In the winter in Alaska, to travel to certain destinations, providers are required to bring Arctic gear on flights due to the extremely cold weather in those locations.
What to Pack for Rural Locum Tenens Travel
Packing for locum tenens assignments in rural and remote areas of the Northwest and Alaska is a little different than putting your swimsuit in a suitcase and heading to the beach. While you may find assignments oceanside – warm, sunny beaches are likely several hundreds of miles south of where you’ll be working.
For our Alaska assignments, in specific, we’ve created an in-depth packing list. Many of the packing tips apply to the other states we staff, as well. To keep it simple, here’s what you’ll need to bring:
The type of clothes will depend on the location and you can always talk to your account executive about the dress code of the facility you’ll be working at. In general, you’ll want to bring a couple of pairs of scrubs and business casual clothing. Due to the rural nature of our assignments, some providers wear clothing that looks nice, but that will also double as outdoor-ready attire, for ease of moving and adaptability.
You’ll also want to make sure you pack enough recreational clothing to get you through your days off work. We recommend packing in removable layers, so you’re prepared for whatever type of weather you may encounter. For jobs in Alaska, you may be required to pack Arctic gear to safely travel to and from assignments.
In addition, you need to remember the typical packing necessities: undergarments, a few comfortable shoe options, and seasonal gear such as hats or gloves (or even swimsuits depending on the season). We also recommend investing in some basic weather gear including water-resistant socks and jackets for rural locum tenens travel.
Electronics to Bring for Rural Locum Tenens Travel
Not only do most people rely on their mobile devices, but when traveling, you’ll want to make sure to have a mobile phone and a backup charger and charging cables. Many providers like to take a laptop with them for entertainment and personal use when not working. We recommend downloading content (shows, movies, books, podcasts, music) in case the internet speed is slower than what you’re used to at home. The facility you work at will have computers for business use.
Don’t forget headphones or earbuds, as well. Not only are they nice to have if you’re flying, but they can be useful while on assignment. For providers working in Alaska, you may want to look into getting a GCI phone, which can provide better calling service throughout your assignment. If your assignment location doesn’t have typical cell phone carrier availability, we’ll communicate that with you, so you can prepare with a GCI phone.
Traveling with Food
Food prep isn’t likely something you first think of when you’re about to travel somewhere. Because our contracted healthcare providers work in such rural and remote locations, doing a little up-front planning before heading out on assignment can make things much easier upon your arrival.
We’ve written an in-depth guide about how to prepare food for locum tenens assignments. The basics of traveling with food are as follows as a locum tenens:
Learn More About the Location of the Assignment
If you’re working with WMS, talk to your account executive about the position and how to plan for groceries, eating out, and other food amenities before your assignment.
Find Out Where to Purchase Groceries
Some rural areas will have grocery stores readily available. In areas of Montana, for instance, it’s common that small towns will have a small store to get staples. In other areas, like bush Alaska, there may not be a grocery store for miles upon miles, so you’ll need to plan ahead. A few major stores like Fred Meyer and Costco will allow you to place an order ahead of time, which will be flown to your assignment location. If you’re driving to somewhere without a grocery store readily available, purchase food ahead of time.
Know Your Options for Eating Out
Restaurants can be a treat to come across in rural and remote areas. While some towns are slightly more populated and have a few options for dining out, many remote areas will not have a restaurant nearby. We advise locum tenens providers to prepare mostly home-cooked meals while on assignment. Lodging for rural assignments typically include an on-site kitchen.
Pack Your Favorite Foods for Rural Locum Tenens Travel
Sometimes, packing the food that you want to bring with you is the best way to ensure that you’ll be able to eat what you want on assignment. This can be especially helpful if you have any dietary restrictions or if you’re worried about shipping certain foods. You will want to check with TSA before you travel to make sure you can bring the types of foods you’d like. You’ll often have more success with separating your food into checked baggage vs. bringing it onto a plane with you.
Prepare for the Weather
Before you take any locum tenens assignment, whether it’s with Wilderness Medical Staffing or with a different agency, do some research. Look into the location where you’ll be and take into consideration how you’ll be traveling there, the seasonality, and the location itself.
We have providers who live full-time in Florida, but who fly to Interior Alaska to take assignments during the year. As you can imagine, the attire is a bit different in January! Do some initial research on what the climate will be like for the duration of your assignment and pack accordingly.
At the very least, have a few items for all-weather adventures (think boots, socks, and a jacket).
What Happens if Something Goes Wrong During Travel?
While we try our best to mitigate travel issues, sometimes weather, airline issues, or other circumstances come up, making travel more difficult than expected. It’s always a good idea for you to have emergency contact information from your locum tenens staffing agency in case you need to contact someone if there is a travel emergency. At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we provide contact information regarding travel to all providers before heading out on assignment, just in case.
If you’re working with Wilderness Medical Staffing and you need assistance while traveling, you’ll most likely need to get in contact with the travel agency that we use, or whatever party booked your travel.
If you work with a different staffing agency, your travel may be booked by clients or you may book your own travel, so who you contact will depend on who booked the travel. This is especially true if you need to change flights since the originating party will have the best resources to help you with updating itineraries.
In circumstances where flights are delayed or canceled, you may need to find lodging for a day or two, depending on where you’re flying to or from. Your staffing agency should be able to assist with working out the details, so you have a place to stay. They may also work with you to find a different type of transportation if it makes sense to.
If Wilderness Medical Staffing is responsible for any travel issues, we’ll do what it takes to make it right with you.
Especially in Alaska and during winter in the states we staff, travel disruptions can happen. Staying calm, reaching out for help, and being flexible will aid in making your trip more enjoyable as you make it to your final destination.
Tips From Providers for Rural Locum Tenens Travel
We’ve had plenty of input from our locum tenens providers over the years and beyond what we’ve already mentioned above. You’ll want to keep these in mind.
Pack Your Carry-on Accordingly
Rural locum tenens travel doesn’t always go as smoothly as we would all like. To make it a little less stressful, we recommend packing personal items into a carry-on to use as an overnight bag. Include a change of clothes, toiletries, medications, and other important items that you cannot live without.
This way, if your luggage gets delayed or lost in transit, you’ll at least have essentials. Also, if you have a long travel day, it can help you to settle in faster without having to go through a large suitcase for the things you need.
One of the key characteristics that we recommend locum tenens to have is flexibility, especially when it comes to rural locum tenens travel. When traveling to rural and remote locations, things can go wrong. Flights can get canceled due to weather or other outside circumstances. Baggage can get lost. No matter what happens, the providers who keep a positive attitude and take it all as part of the adventure are usually the most successful on assignments.
For many of our locum tenens healthcare providers, opportunities to travel are the main appeal of the type of work they do. With the right amount of preparation, travel shouldn’t be a big stressor and can add to the overall adventure of your work in rural and remote communities.