Over the past five years, I have worked as a locum tenens hospitalist with more than 12 different locum tenens companies. I have learned a lot through this process. At one point, I even considered starting my own locum tenens company because of the frustrations I was feeling about the inefficiencies of many of these companies. I would like to help those of you either already practicing as a locum tenens physician or considering practicing through this process to make it as painless as possible.
Here are my tips to be aware of when choosing a locum tenens company to work with.
- Bigger isn’t necessarily better. There are a few companies that advertise a lot. I’m sure you are all very well aware of them. They send out many emails, call numerous times, and somehow have a banner on every website you visit. These companies tend to have large overhead costs. These costs mean that your hourly rate may be lower. Smaller companies are sometimes less efficient, but as long as you make sure your expectations are heard, they will often give you a rate that the bigger companies cannot afford.
- State your terms. As physicians, we are often not the most business savvy. Remember that locum tenens companies exist because there is a shortage of hospitalists in some areas. We need to be able to state certain terms; if you don’t like something, then make sure you add that into your contract. For example, patient safety should always come first; make sure you establish a cap for the number of patients you are willing to see per day.
- Be protective of your CV. Remember that locum tenens companies profit when you work, so they will want to hand out your CV to as many hospitals as possible. While they make it sound like it is in your best interest, it may not be. If a company presents you to a hospital, most of the time the contract you sign with them states that they “own” your presentation for two years. This means that if you do not like the locum tenens company or if another company is offering you more for the same hospital, you have to work with the company that presented you first. Make sure you have a written agreement between you and your locum tenens company with regard to presentations stating which hospitals the locum tenens company can present you to, with a follow-up response from the locum tenens company stating when they presented you.
- Your recruiter is your best advocate. Make sure you get along. Make sure you have very good communication with your recruiter, who is the one who will be doing all of your scheduling and negotiating. If you do not have a good relationship, move on to a new recruiter or to a new company.
- Have fun! Working as a locum tenens physician, in my opinion, is the best of everything combined. There are very few jobs where you can decide when you want to work, dictate your terms, and get paid well doing something you love. Locum tenens takes a little bit of getting used to; when you have it figured out, it is empowering and enjoyable. TH
Geeta Arora, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and integrative holistic medicine.