Compensation is a determining factor of job satisfaction, yet nearly half (48%) of physicians say they’re dissatisfied with how much they earn, according to a Medscape physician compensation survey. This sentiment, combined with long hours, a strained workforce, and mounting administrative demands, has many physicians looking for a way to increase their paycheck and job satisfaction overall. One way to do so is through locum tenens.

Know your worth as a physician

Understanding your compensation allows you to know your worth as a physician and better negotiate for the pay you deserve. To find out what average pay looks like for your specialty and location, you can look to resources such as the Medical Group Management Association’s (MGMA) provider compensation report and Medscape’s physician specialty salary reports.

Keep in mind these numbers may vary depending on the pay structure you’ve agreed to. For example, fee-for-service or productivity-based pay rates will depend on how many patients you see, while a per diem or salaried rate remains unchanged no matter how much your workload varies day-to-day.

To increase their earnings, some physicians are turning to locum tenens work, which can pay up to 50% more than similar employed positions, according to — either to supplement their income or work as full-time independent contractors.

Similarly, Medscape reported in its 2023 physician compensation report that self-employed physicians (including those who work locums) average $374,000 per year, compared to employed doctors who average $344,000 per year.

How locum tenens pay works

Locum tenens physicians work as independent contractors and, as such, aren’t employed directly through a healthcare facility or a staffing agency.

Pay is typically contracted at an hourly or daily rate but may include overtime, bonuses, and increases for holiday coverage, among other arrangements. While patient load may vary between assignments, pay is typically not dependent on how many patients are seen.

Staffing agencies pay locum providers directly, and they often cover other expenses like travel, housing while on assignment, licensing and credentialing assistance, and malpractice coverage.

As independent contractors, physicians are responsible for paying their own taxes, arranging healthcare benefits, and contributing to retirement funds, which can be made easier through the creation of a business entity or assistance from an accountant.

Factors that influence locum tenens pay

A variety of factors influence how much a locum contract pays. If you want to maximize your compensation, pay attention to factors like:

  • Location (rural versus urban)
  • Type of facility
  • Patient load
  • Type of shift (day versus night)
  • Required skill set
  • Demand for your specialty

The staffing agency you decide to work with can also impact your locum tenens experience. “More reputable agencies are in a better position to negotiate with facilities than some others,” says Ronney Davis, VP of sales operation strategy at CHG Healthcare. “Many times, we are the ones educating the facility on what’s happening in the market and what’s dictating pay.”

Benefits of locum tenens

Working locum tenens can improve job satisfaction for physicians in ways other than compensation, from increased flexibility, decreased stress, and better work/life balance. In fact, four out of five physicians (81%) who have worked locum tenens had a positive experience, according to a 2023 survey conducted by CHG Healthcare.

Here are several reasons why physicians have decided to pursue locum tenens work and how their decision has boosted their career satisfaction.

Increased compensation

Dr. Ali Chaudhary, an emergency medicine physician who works locum tenens, shares, “I started doing locums while I had my full-time job to supplement my income and pay my student debt off faster. Eventually I realized I had full flexibility, and I was getting paid more doing locums than I was at my full-time job. I could work the same amount and make a lot more money, or work less and make the same amount of money as I was at my full-time job.”

Paying off debt faster

Like Dr. Chaudhary, some physicians are drawn to locums to supplement their income and pay off debt. Take OB/GYN Dr. Ashita Gehlot and her husband, Dr. Hevil Shah, a neonatologist, who both completed medical school at the same time.

“Once medical school was over and both of us went into residency, it became an eye-opener,” says Dr. Gehlot of the debt they owed. They quickly realized that it could take them 20-30 years to pay off their loans if they didn’t come up with a plan.

When Dr. Shah’s fellowship took them from Georgia to Ohio, Dr. Gehlot began working locum assignments. In addition to being able to practice both obstetrics and gynecology, she was thankful for the opportunity to begin aggressively paying off her student debt. She’s also been able to take on extra shifts, which equates to higher pay than if she had stayed in private practice.

Schedule flexibility

Dr. Albert Belardi, an anesthesiologist who works locums, says he was working 70-80 hours per week when he was in private practice. Instead of retiring, he switched to locum tenens, where he could decide when and how much he worked. He says, “I have no call, no weekend responsibility, no holiday responsibility.”

Better work/life balance

Dr. Robert Brenner, a gastroenterologist, works 20 days per month, giving him ample time to devote to family and personal life. “It’s given me about one-third of my time off,” Dr. Brenner says. “When I’m home, I’m free and getting many things done. My wife’s happy to see me as we still manage to maintain our closeness.”

Dr. Brenner is also an avid cyclist, so he makes the most of his time off while on assignment by jumping on his bike and doing 50 miles at a clip. “Riding is my therapy. It’s just good to get out, put some miles on, and enjoy the countryside.”

Lower stress

In addition to a more flexible schedule, Dr. Belardi pursued locums after retiring so he could focus on doing his job — without the politics. “Locums has revitalized my career,” he says. “I look forward to coming to work. It’s a reasonable position, the people are great, and the workload is good.”

He admits that the quarterly taxes you pay as an independent contractor can be a challenge but says it’s worth the trouble. “I’ll make the sacrifice because I’m enjoying myself.”

Earn more with locum tenens

Locum tenens isn’t only a way to increase your income as a physician, but it can also improve your relationship with work overall through better work/life balance, schedule flexibility, and less stress.

Do you have questions about working locum tenens? Give Weatherby Healthcare a call at 954.343.3050 to speak with a consultant or check out our locum tenens job board.