Are you a medical provider considering a transition to locum tenens work? Many providers who learn about locum tenens get excited about what the adventure could bring but see it as a somewhat frightening transition from their current status quo. Nerves can be eased when you have the information you need to make informed decisions. Locum tenens work comes with many perks, but before you make the switch, it’ll benefit you to understand more about what it means to be a locum tenens and why it might be a career choice worth considering. In this article, we will address the concerns of switching to rural locum tenens work vs. being an employee.
Working as a locum tenens in rural and remote locations can pose its own set of challenges versus if you are working in an urban setting. In the spirit of transparency, we’ll break down what you need to know about income, travel, stability, work-life balance, and more when working in rural and remote locations.
First, what is a locum tenens?
Locum tenens is Latin in origin and translates to, “to hold the place of, to substitute for.” As a healthcare provider, locum tenens often take the place of another healthcare provider to allow them to take vacations, sick leave, and avoid burnout. For some facilities, especially in remote areas like the ones we staff, it can be challenging to hire full-time healthcare providers to live permanently in an area. In those situations, facilities will sometimes hire locum tenens healthcare providers to rotate in and out of the area so communities can receive healthcare, even without a permanent healthcare provider living there full-time.
Many healthcare facilities bring the same locum tenens providers back repeatedly to create continuity of care with patients and to continually provide healthcare to areas that would otherwise go without it. They may rotate through a handful of providers to give them each a break in between assignments.
In some instances, especially in areas where work is cyclical, locum tenens providers may be hired temporarily to work at industrial sites or healthcare facilities when they need medical services due to an uptick in workers or population.
Income as a Locum Tenens
Most locum tenens assignments are 1099 positions, meaning you will operate an independent contractor (you own your own business) vs. being an employee on a company’s payroll. Since you are not an employee of the staffing agency or healthcare site, benefits like retirement or health insurance are rarely in the equation.
As an independent contractor, you’ll need to find your own health insurance (which we’ll talk about more below). You also may want to look into retirement options, including setting up accounts like a Roth IRA since you will not qualify for company-sponsored retirement savings like a 401K. This is perhaps the largest consideration to make when considering a switch to full-time locum work if you are currently receiving those benefits from a full-time employer.
When you operate as a locum tenens, it can be beneficial to have a few trusted business professionals available as resources for your finances, including an accountant, an insurance agent or two (for both health insurance and personal lines of insurance), and a financial advisor (to assist you with retirement planning and saving).
While locum tenens work comes with benefit considerations, providers can earn much higher flat pay rates than in full-time work. Many of our rural locations in Alaska, for example, will pay a flat daily rate, 7 days a week for every day you’re on assignment. Providers working these kinds of assignments with Wilderness Medical Staffing can earn upwards of $30,000 per month while also experiencing the unique challenges and rewards of working in remote or rural settings. For examples of the jobs we have available, please review our job board.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that these earnings are not withheld the same way they would be if you were receiving a W2, meaning you’ll want to work with an accountant or financial expert to help you to withhold your own earnings or to decide if it could be beneficial to start paying estimated payments quarterly. As an employee, your paychecks automatically include taxes on them, whereas when you’re a locum tenens, your tax withholdings may not be what you’re used to. This applies to any type of locum tenens work – rural or urban.
What To Know About Travel as a Locum Tenens
For healthcare providers who enjoy the idea of traveling to destinations they may never have otherwise visited, locum tenens can be a great opportunity to pick and choose destinations to work at temporarily. Here’s what you need to know, before you start packing for your locum tenens adventures.
Staffing agencies typically cover travel expenses and coordinate arrangements, making locum tenens work an opportunity to travel to exciting places and be paid to do it! At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we pay for all travel expenses (flights and vehicles) and coordinate your housing. Whether you’re working at the edge of the world in Bush Alaska or the majestic mountains of Montana, we take care of all the details so you can focus on providing exceptional care to your patients. You’ll want to verify travel coverage or reimbursements with whatever staffing agency or healthcare facility you’re working with.
Since WMS locum tenens providers work in rural and remote locations, travel is often when your adventure starts, since it can be anything but typical! It’s not rare for providers who work in rural Alaska to take a major airline into a hub city, like Juneau, and then fly on a smaller bush plane to an island, where they may be picked up by vehicle or have arrangements to borrow or rent one to get to their final destination. In Montana, healthcare providers may drive long distances in all types of weather to make it to their assignments. Our team will work with you ahead of time for travel preparation, so you’ll know what to expect before heading out.
Travel to rural and remote locations can come with unique logistical challenges, many of which are influenced by unpredictable weather. For healthcare providers who don’t mind unplanned circumstances, locum tenens work in rural and remote locations could be worth considering.
Is Locum Tenens Work Stable?
Each locum tenens contract is temporary, so you will have to plan ahead for when you want to work or can work. Contracts can vary widely in duration, from just a few days to several months or even a year. At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we have a wide range of assignments available in Alaska and the Northwestern United States, so you can choose the duration and regularity of assignments that fit what you are looking for.
While staffing agencies may coordinate with healthcare providers differently, at WMS, we make an effort to learn what your career goals are, how much availability you have to work as a locum tenens, and what types of assignments you are interested in (short or long durations). Often, locum tenens can fill out schedules months in advance with assignments, and work with the staffing agency’s team to create a schedule that works for them.
Each provider’s story is unique, so everyone is looking for something different when it comes to the duration and regularity of an assignment. If you have wide-open availability, most staffing agencies will have a much easier time placing you on an assignment that fits your needs. You should always discuss with a recruiter how much you’d like to be working, and they will give you a realistic expectation for how much work you will get in the light of your experience, availability, and any constraints to your ability to take an assignment.
The flexibility of working as a locum tenens is one of the perks of the job that draws many providers to this type of work, which leads us to our next point, work-life balance.
Using Locum Tenens to Achieve a Work-Life Balance
Locum tenens work can offer greater control over schedules and downtime, making it an attractive option for avoiding burnout and prioritizing things that are important to you in life. You get the opportunity to make a lot of money in a short time and then afford more time off in between assignments.
Many providers like to work one month on, one month off rotations, or a few months at a time before taking extended time off. Pouring yourself out for your patients can be exhausting! We believe that providers can do their best work only when they are balancing work with personal health and all other exciting things going on in life. There is no better way to take control of your schedule, your time, and your life than with locum tenens work.
We have providers who will work during the fall, winter, and spring, and take the entire summer off to go fishing. We also have providers who plan long vacations to destinations in between their assignments or just enjoy some time off. Some providers will keep a part-time or full-time position and will use locum tenens work to earn a little extra money when their schedule allows.
Some assignments may allow family to travel along with you or provide opportunities for your family to visit you while on assignment, but it’s always position-dependent.
What to Know About Scope of Practice as a Locum Tenens
Almost every healthcare profession has opportunities for locum tenens work, but if you’re interested in working with Wilderness Medical Staffing, we work with physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners specifically.
Working in different clinical settings and with different patient populations can be a challenging but rewarding aspect of locum tenens work. At Wilderness Medical Staffing, many of our rural or remote clinic locations in Alaska and Montana involve a blend of primary care, urgent care, and emergency call. This variety allows our providers to develop their skills and experience working with a wide range of patients, from those in small, close-knit communities to those in remote areas where access to care is limited.
It’s important as a provider that you communicate your experience, qualifications, and skills honestly with your staffing agency or healthcare facility, so they can find and place you into positions that will match your background and expertise. In rural and remote communities, healthcare providers can sometimes be the difference between life and death situations, making it critically important that the right locum tenens is placed at the appropriate assignments.
Licensing as a Locum Tenens
As a locum tenens healthcare provider, you still need to be licensed in the states that you’ll be working in, which can sometimes be a deciding factor for choosing the states to become licensed. If you have your heart set on working in specific destinations, it can be beneficial to find agencies or healthcare facilities that are hiring for positions in those types of destinations and inquire about them before becoming licensed, so you know what to expect.
Resources are available for navigating licensing requirements. At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we have extensive experience working with providers in Alaska, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming and we can help you navigate the licensing process in each state. We’ll work closely with you to make sure you have everything you need to practice with confidence.
Different staffing agencies assist with licensing in different ways, but you will need active medical licenses no matter if you’re working with an agency or directly through a healthcare facility. You’ll also need to go through credentialing with the individual facilities that place you on assignment, so keeping all of your records organized and easily accessible can aid in getting you placed on assignments sooner.
Important Information About Insurance as a Locum Tenens
Providers must maintain malpractice insurance, and it is customary that the agency provides you with malpractice insurance that protects you while you are on assignment. At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we provide malpractice insurance for every provider who works with us. This coverage protects our providers while also giving our clients peace of mind knowing they are working with fully insured providers.
Health insurance is up to the individual provider to obtain since you’ll need to get your own insurance as a locum tenens. This can be done in numerous ways, and please note that we are not insurance providers, so these are only options that you may want to look into further. It could be beneficial to find a trusted healthcare insurance advisor if you don’t already have one.
If you are married, you may have the option to get added to your spouse’s insurance for an additional fee. Healthcare.gov may also help you with navigating your next steps if you need an individual plan. You may also be able to opt-in for Medicare or Medicaid depending on your circumstances. Whatever you decide, you’ll want to do your research and understand when you can enroll and what type of insurance is best for you.
With these considerations in mind, providers can weigh the pros and cons of locum tenens work and explore the unique possibilities of working in remote or rural settings in Alaska and the Northwestern United States. Contact Wilderness Medical Staffing today to learn more about transitioning your career into a career as a locum tenens.