Are you new to locum tenens or just want to know more about it? From assignment misconceptions to tax confusion, we’re debunking 10 of the most common locum myths to help you unlock the full potential of your medical career.
Myth #1: You can only work locum tenens at the end of your career
Locum tenens is often perceived as a way to transition into retirement, giving seasoned physicians the opportunity to reduce their workload while still practicing medicine. While many physicians use locums as a semi-retirement strategy, there are a variety of benefits to working locums at any stage in your career.
Physicians fresh from residency can leverage short-term assignments to explore different locations and clinical settings before committing to a permanent job. Mid-career physicians embrace temporary positions as opportunities to boost their income and enhance their skills.
Dr. Jeanine Ricca, an OB/GYN, used locums to rediscover the joy of practicing medicine.
“The hospital group I was with was very toxic, and it just wasn’t a good fit for me,” she shared. “So, when my contract was up, we parted ways. It was that horrible where I just felt totally beaten down, and so I was considering just completely leaving medicine. Then I decided to do some locums while figuring out whether I even wanted to practice medicine anymore, and while doing locums, I fell back in love with practicing medicine.”
“Then I decided to do some locums while figuring out whether I even wanted to practice medicine anymore, and while doing locums, I fell back in love with practicing medicine.”
–Dr. Jeanine Ricca
Myth #2: You can’t work locums full time
Although locums assignments aren’t permanent, a lot of physicians have embraced locum tenens as their full-time career. That’s because they enjoy the flexibility and freedom that working locums offers, giving them the work/life balance needed to travel, spend more time with family and friends, and even combat burnout.
“I’m 100% happy I decided to do locums,” said Dr. Ricca. “I like traveling around, and I like going to the different facilities. My children are grown, and I don’t want to move back to my hometown. I just don’t know where I want to live, so it’s nice moving around. It works for me.”
Myth #3: You have to accept every opportunity presented to you
One of the biggest advantages of locum tenens is the control it gives you over your career. You decide the frequency and quantity of the assignments you accept. You also get to decide which assignments you want to take and which assignments you don’t.
Your Weatherby consultant can help determine which jobs are best suited for your needs. Dr. Jim Mock, an emergency medicine physician, says his consultant helps him find the best opportunities. “He knows my preferences because we’re friends and have worked together for so long,” he said. “There’s a lot of groundwork we don’t have to cover. He seeks out jobs or finds contracts that fit my schedule and preferences well. It’s one of the most successful business relationships I’ve had since I’ve been a physician.”
“There’s a lot of groundwork we don’t have to cover. He seeks out jobs or finds contracts that fit my schedule and preferences well. It’s one of the most successful business relationships I’ve had since I’ve been a physician.”
–Dr. Jim Mock
Myth #4: You can only work short-term assignments
Locums offers physicians a variety of assignment types to fit any lifestyle. Although there are plenty of short-term assignments to choose from that last only a few days or weeks, there are also longer assignments available that last several weeks or even a few months.
“When I tell my friends that I work locums, they’re like ‘Oh, so you travel all over the place.’ I tell them, ‘Well, yeah, you can do that, or you can do long-term locums assignments, which I’ve been doing,’” said Dr. Ashita Gehlot, OB/GYN. “It’s kind of interesting that a lot of my class friends and people that I’ve graduated with before and after me don’t know that locums is a great option.”
“It’s kind of interesting that a lot of my class friends and people that I’ve graduated with before and after me don’t know that locums is a great option.”
–Dr. Ashita Gehlot
In addition to flexible options in the length of a contract, there are also opportunities for reoccurring contracts. Sometimes these contracts even arrange for physicians to return once a month or every few weeks, which is extremely beneficial to communities that can’t support a full-time specialist but have a need for their expertise.
Myth #5: Locum tenens work is unstable
While locum tenens assignments may involve more frequent changes in location and schedule than permanent positions, you can still create a predictable schedule to give you more time to enjoy the things you love. However, the key to attaining this stability is working with reputable agencies that can provide consistent job placements and ongoing support.
Dr. Mock’s consultant at Weatherby ensures that he has stable, dependable work. “When I’m working, I want to be concentrating on taking care of patients and not wondering where I’m going next or whether I’m going to be able to make a living and support my family,” said Dr. Mock. “My recruiter, Nick, is already behind the scenes taking care of that. As a result, in the 10 years I’ve been working with Weatherby, I’ve never had to worry whether I have enough work. I’ve never had a month where I didn’t have all the work I wanted.”
Myth #6: Locum tenens always requires travel
Although many enjoy the travel aspect of locum tenens work, frequent traveling doesn’t fit with everyone’s life circumstances. Luckily, local assignments allow physicians to work as temporary or part-time clinicians in the same area, or nearby, where they already reside. In fact, according to CHG’s 2023 State of Locum Tenens report, 51 percent of locums physicians work local assignments.
“At first, I didn’t really grasp the scope of locum tenens completely. I knew you went somewhere, and you work for a while, but I didn’t realize the flexibility,” shared Dr. Pierre Moeser, who now works locums exclusively after 28 years in private practice. “It’s not like you have to go someplace in another state and live there and work there. This could be one week a month, could be two weeks a month, could be three weeks, whatever.”
Myth #7: You can’t travel with family or pets
A lot of locums physicians take loved ones, even of the four-legged variety, along on assignments. It’s a great way to turn a contract into a working vacation or simply enjoy the new location as a family.
“I usually do longer-term assignments of three to six months,” said Dr. Ricca. “I travel with my two Great Danes, so longer-term assignments work out well when I travel with those two giants as opposed to short-term. We move to the area and settle in like a regular doctor who’s practicing at that facility and get integrated into the practice for a bit before moving on.”
If you do travel with family or pets, make sure to let your consultant know about your plans so they can make appropriate travel and housing adjustments.
“My dogs are really good traveling in the car with me, and we stay at dog-friendly hotels,” Dr. Ricca shared. “It’s fun traveling with them.”
Myth #8: Locum tenens physicians provide lower-quality patient care
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no significant difference in mortality rates between patients treated by locum tenens and non-locum tenens physicians. This indicates there are no systematic differences in the quality of care provided by both groups of physicians.
In fact, another study conducted by researchers with the University of Toledo College of Medicine/ProMedica showed that patients treated by locums providers had shorter hospital stays and decreased hospital costs, and there was no increase in readmissions or mortality.
Myth #9: You don’t have to pay taxes on locum tenens income
Locum tenens physicians are considered independent contractors, meaning they’re not employees of the facility or the staffing company that arranged the assignment. Because you’re an independent contractor, taxes are not withheld from payments during a contract.
“While you may have completed your personal taxes in the past, this process can become increasingly complicated when you are working for multiple locum companies across the country,” Dr. Nicholas Kusnezov, an orthopedic surgeon, shared. “Tax law changes constantly, and it’s easy to overlook the many nuances when personally doing your taxes. Time is money, and in order to maximize efficiency and your tax returns, I would strongly recommend hiring a personal accountant.”
Myth #10: Locums physicians don’t receive help with assignments
From credentialing and payroll to travel and housing, a credible locum tenens staffing agency has systems and people in place to make sure each experience goes as smoothly as possible. For example, if there are delays or flight cancellations, Weatherby has a representative on call 24/7 to assist in rerouting you to your assignment.
Dr. Julie Long, a pediatric surgeon, recalled a time her Weatherby consultant helped her out in a pinch. “One time I was traveling and because of weather and delays, I missed a connection. I was not in a big place and my Wi-Fi wasn’t great,” she remembered. “I called the team and immediately they said, ‘Okay, here are your options.’ It was so nice. It was the feeling that ‘Oh, I’m being taken care of.’ Everyone is so great. They feel like friends I haven’t met yet.”
What are you waiting for?
Locum tenens is a dynamic, adaptable career path that empowers physicians to chart their own course, whether they’re fresh out of residency or well into their medical journey. Our team is here to support you throughout the whole process, and your consultant is with you every step of the way.