The Growing World of Locum Tenens –

True or False: You could pay off your medical school debt in less than 10 years.

The answer is True. If you don’t believe us, you probably haven’t heard of locum tenens work yet. Locum tenens means “placeholder” in Latin; in plain English, it’s a temporary physician job.1

Locum jobs are available internationally, and they usually net 33-50% more pay than a standard doctor’s salary.2 With that kind of money in play, they should be pretty popular. And yet, less than 5% of today’s 915,720 practicing physicians in the U.S. have chosen the locum route.3 So what’s going on?

Medical School Student Survey

Let’s see what tomorrow’s doctors have to say about that bafflingly low percentage. We conducted a survey of current medical students to find out how they felt about locum work, with some interesting results. Promisingly, more than 70% of medical students we asked were familiar with the term locum tenens. However, just over 11% of them knew that locum work typically comes with a competitive compensation package, and less than 11% had any colleagues or friends who worked locums. So while young doctors know that locums exist, they may not have enough information to decide if that’s the right choice.

Here are the perks:

1. Working locums is incredibly lucrative. While most doctors fresh out of their residencies will be facing over $200,000 in debt, a few well-chosen jobs can significantly offset that burden. The pay rates aren’t fixed, either; multiple staffing agencies may offer different pay for the same job. A smart doctor should be ready to negotiate. In addition, these jobs typically cover housing and travel expenses as well as licensing fees.

med student debt versus locums2. New doctors are offered work flexibility. You could even work during a fellowship or right out of residency. While 48% of residents expect to stay at their first job for 3 or more years, the reality is that over a quarter of new physicians leave their first job within 1-2 years.4,5 Why not take a few weeks or months in different hospitals and practices to gain clinical experience and learn more about your work habits before you make any big decisions? Plus, these jobs rarely require administrative responsibility, so you’ll have extra time. Taking this route seems like a no-brainer and essentially it becomes like a try before you buy it deal.

3. These jobs are never ending. Even though more doctors are working locums straight out of residency (up to 21% in 2014), it will take more than that to cover the physician deficit in the US.6 “Hospitals using temporary physicians rose from 22% in 2009 to 55% in 2013,” reported the Modern Medicine network last year.7 Plus, the temporary nature of these jobs means that there’s always plenty of turnover. Popular specialties like cardiology and orthopedic surgery are frequently in high demand, too.8

4. Locum jobs provide the best work-life balance. Job security is one thing, but 46% of physicians have experienced career burnout from overwork. On the other hand, most jobs are as good in real life as they are on paper: a set number of patients per day, no last-minute call coverage, and adequate support staff.9 You could take a vacation between assignments, or pack up for a new hospital over holiday weekends, when regular staff are out of town. Some positions have temporary-to-permanent options, too, if you’ve found the perfect job and you’re ready to settle.

5. The credentialing process has come a long way. In the past, it’s taken so long to credential providers that the job could be over  before your application was approved, but that’s no longer the case. Thanks to the prevalence of cloud technology, much of the credentialing process can be automated, and you might not even have to lick a single envelope.

Our tips to getting credentialed ASAP:
  1. Narrow down the states where you want to work (and if you’re not already licensed there, start your paperwork now).
  2. Always have 2-3 current professional references on hand.
  3. Keep your resume up to date.
  4. Find a good credential management software. It’s not just for practices – individual providers can benefit greatly from a reliable career management system.

So go ahead and think it through. Do you still want to be paying off student debt in 2045? Will you settle for a miserable first job? If your answer is no, you know what to do. Have some thoughts about the world of locums? Leave us a comment below.

If you’re a provider interested in learning more about managing your credentials; it’s free – learn more here.

If you’re a practice manager looking to manage your team’s credentials; get started here.

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