Internal medicine physicians diagnose, treat, and provide care to adults ranging from simple health issues to complex illnesses. Amidst the current demand and projected shortages for physicians, internal medicine is one of the most sought after specialties. This is because most medical graduates who enter internal medicine go on to subspecialize, leaving a wide gap in the number of “general” internal medicine physicians available. In addition, due to patient complexity, practice environment, lifestyle demands, and reputation for receiving lower income than other specialties, many medical students are dissuaded from an internal medicine career. So how do you make the most out of a career as an internal medicine physician? The answer is simple: by working full-time as a locum tenens physician.
Locum tenens is a Latin phrase that means “to hold the place” and is used to describe when a physician works temporarily in a hospital or other healthcare facility. A locum tenens physician allows hospitals to cover another physician’s vacation/medical leave, account for increased patient demand, or fill a gap while a new, permanent physician is searched for. In fact, some hospitals choose to staff more locum tenens physicians than permanent physicians, given their flexibility and ability to accommodate fluctuations in demand. The appropriate number and mix of locum tenens hospital physicians allow healthcare organizations to provide quality healthcare to their patient populations while offering locum tenens physicians more flexibility, extra income, the ability to travel, and exposure to new and evolving patient care environments.
Making the most out of your Locum Tenens Career
In order to leverage your highly sought after clinician skills and maximize the financial gains of your locum tenens career, follow these guidelines:
Work full time
The best way to leverage your skills is to work full time. Not only does it allow you to earn more compared to permanently employed physicians, but it also allows you the flexibility to live your life. While working as a locum tenens physician, you have control over job location, assignment length, and practice settings. You are able to negotiate the shift schedule that fits your lifestyle. Once approved to work at a hospital, physicians are able to make themselves available to pick up last-minute shifts if they desire. Schedule flexibility is ideal for those who have commitments outside of practicing medicine, such as raising a family, caring for a loved one, or even working another full-time job.
Negotiate your salary
To get the highest possible salary you must often negotiate your salary rate, which may not come easy for everyone, but it is something anyone can do. Blindly throwing out the amount you want to get paid generally does not work; there is a method to becoming a great negotiator. First, research the assignment you want keeping in mind the average salary for doctors in your specialty. Next, have confidence. The worst-case scenario is you are told no, but that’s better than never trying to get a higher salary. Keep in mind that many facilities have a very fixed rate they are hoping to pay; if you want to increase your hourly rate, you should expect some trade-offs. This is especially true if you are competing with other locum tenens physicians for the same position.
Locum tenens physician pay rates are often comparable, if not higher than permanent positions due to the high demand for covering a vacancy. The pay rates vary widely based on region, the immediacy of the need, special skills wanted, board certification requirements, call requirements, and more, but average locum tenens internal medicine salary is $100-175/hr. Anesthesiologists can benefit from locum tenens by negotiating their salary to a higher rate.
Pick the right location for you
A locum tenens career allows you to work almost anywhere in the United States and even internationally. Location can be a huge deciding factor in the salary offered. Rural areas tend to have a higher demand for locum tenens physicians compared to larger urban areas such as New York or Chicago. This means that a smaller rural location may be willing to pay a higher rate when compared to a big city hospital where the competition for a locum tenens physician job is more fierce. Some locum tenens staffing agencies will offer a bonus to fill rural locum tenens jobs for an extended period of time, too. On the other hand, you should expect rates to be commensurate with the regional cost of living. While a rate in rural Arkansas may seem low to a physician who lives in Los Angeles, it is likely extremely competitive for the region. When deciding on a locum tenens physician opportunity, you may need to assess if the area you live in is more important to you when compared to the salary you will earn.
Another important consideration in choosing the right location is taxes. Working in low or no income tax states can make a huge difference in your income. Examples of no income tax states include AK, FL, NV, TN, TX, WY, and SD while some low-income tax states include IN, ND, WA, and PA.
Be smart with your hard-earned money
As a locum tenens physician, you are considered an independent contractor. You have the ability to deduct expenses like home office, cell phone, vehicle, and health insurance premiums. In addition, locum tenens physicians are able to open a simplified employee pension plan as a way to save for retirement. It is often recommended that locum tenens physicians hire a personal CPA to help minimize the tax burden.
Be mindful of burn out
Working as a locum tenens physician is a great way to avoid burnout from a day to day career and find the satisfaction that comes from providing quality healthcare to patients. The benefit of locum tenens work is that even if you experience the burn out sensation, you can take a break and re-prioritize your working schedule to maximize your long term yield while preserving your sanity and well being. Imagine having the opportunity to work with different patient populations, in different facilities, in different regions– as often as you’d like!
Work with a locum tenens agency
While it is possible to find locum tenens jobs on your own, working with a staffing agency allows you to plan ahead. Staffing agencies offer access to multiple physician job postings in one place, allowing you to plan your next assignment and have the details in place before your current job assignment ends. In addition, staffing agencies also offer the following benefits:
- Licensing: Many staffing agencies will handle the documentation and verification process and act as a liaison between the physicians, state boards, and various offices that are contacted during the application process.
- Travel and housing expertise: Many staffing agencies include travel and housing reimbursement in the negotiation process. Some agencies will even assist you in booking those travel arrangements.
- Malpractice Coverage: It is common for the staffing agency to provide some form of malpractice coverage in the contract, however, details and coverage limits may vary. The hospital has the option to provide your malpractice coverage, too, but the agency will provide it if they choose not to. Malpractice coverage is an important part of being a locum tenens internal medicine physician and having an agency assist in navigating the requirements is helpful. It is important to know your obligations ahead of time as malpractice insurance can be a significant cost that may impact your decision on a particular locum tenens job.
- Negotiation-Working directly with a locum tenens staffing agency allows you to negotiate the rate, shift preference, start date, days off, and other job details important to you. Locum tenens internal medicine physicians typically earn more per hour when compared to a permanent medical position.
How do you become a locum tenens Physician?
Now that you know how to maximize your salary as a locum tenens physician, you are ready to take the first step in working with a third party staffing group like Lucidity. You will fill out a series of questions about your preferences that will allow us to find and match you with the best locum tenens internal medicine job. If traveling is an option you are open to or even interested in prioritizing, your staffing agency will work to find locum tenens jobs in a location you are excited by. If you prefer to stay close to home, there are often ample job opportunities to serve as a locum tenens internal medicine physician in your local community.
Once a locum tenens physician job is found, the staffing agency will work with you on any contracting, credentialing, state licensing (if needed), travel and living arrangements, and act as your advocate during the negotiation process.
The timeline for a locum tenens job can range from a few days to up to two years. The length of the job assignment is defined by the hospital you will be working with. The staffing agency you work with will take into account your starting date, medical specialty, and certifications, states you are licensed in, preferred rate, and experience working in similar facilities to determine if you are a good match.
How to choose a locum tenens agency
When choosing a locum tenens staffing agency, physicians should look for several qualities. You have the right to evaluate different firms and choose the one that best represents you. Some locum tenens physicians even choose to juggle multiple agencies.
- Make sure that the company provides some form of malpractice insurance
- Ask about the payroll history and ensure they have the financial resources to pay their physicians regularly
- Check to see if the company offers services such as licensing, credentialing, travel and housing arrangements
If you are ready to start looking at locum tenens physician opportunities, Lucidity is a great place to start. By using 15+ components about you and your preferences, we filter out the noise to deliver the best job matches to you directly. As a bonus, all fully verified physicians in our platform can log in to see the open jobs any time they want. Yes, that means no waiting for the phone to ring when you are in search of the perfect role. If you’re ready to sign up as a locum tenens physician, create a Lucidity account today.