Locum Tenens: What Doctors Need to Know Before Starting

Nailed the search and landed your first locum tenens, moonlighting, or freelance doctor gig? Congratulations!! You’re embarking on an exciting career chapter.

What is Locum Tenens?

Locum tenens is a latin term for doctors who take temporary clinical positions. In the medical community, working a locum tenens position means you are filling in at a hospital or other healthcare facility because of staffing shortages.

Benefits of Locum Tenens

Some of the biggest benefits doctors find from working locum tenens or moonlighting are:

  • Higher pay rates and supplemental income
  • Freedom and flexibility to control your schedule
  • Opportunities to travel nationwide
  • Lack of politics in a clinical setting
  • Chance to practice in diverse clinical environments

All of these reasons and more are why locum tenens work has some of the highest job satisfaction rates in healthcare. In fact, 79% of doctors find that locum tenens, a.k.a. freelance clinical work, is just as or more satisfying than working in a permanent setting.

We want to make sure your first locum tenens experience goes smoothly and that you’re set up for a successful freelance career, so we’ve compiled five things need to know to hit the ground running.

5 To-Do’s For Your New Locum Tenens Job

1. Talk to someone from the medical team

From patient population to work culture, each hospital or office is its own ecosystem, and while there’ll invariably be things you’ll need to learn as you go (and employers expect that), you can also pick up a lot from a conversation with someone who’s been doing the job. You can learn what they liked most and what they wish they knew before going in. You can also get a feel for what the culture is like and what to expect during your time there.

See if your employer would be willing to put you in touch with your predecessor or an existing colleague. If none of those are possible, you can also talk to someone who’s worked in a similar type of environment. Don’t know anybody? Reach out to our Nomad Navigators; they can put you in touch with someone whose experience is as close a match as possible.

2. Digitize your documents and bring them with you

Leave your papers at home. Take the time to scan and upload all of your important employment documents to a secure location online. This will help you save time when documents are requested by medical administrators, and keep you organized.

Here are a list of documents all doctors should digitize:

  • State Medical Licenses
  • Medical School Diploma or Certificate/Degree
  • Federal DEA cert with CURRENT office address
  • Malpractice face sheet - including tail coverage policies
  • Current Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • Current Drivers LIcense
  • Social Security Card
  • Board Certification, National Certifying Exam (NCCPA) or proof of Board Qualified/Eligible
  • Internship & Residency Certificates with dates or letter from Program Director
  • Contacts of three professional references - address, phone number, relationship, years known and email address

It helps to have your source documents handy to fill in any gaps or answer any additional questions your employer has.

Not only that, but if you’re applying to more jobs during the time you’re freelancing, having everything already with you can be very helpful. Also, be aware that some facilities require proof of immunizations (including annual flu shots) and recent medical history, so have a record of when and where you did what just in case.

3. Know your tax breaks

“Locum tenens” is synonymous with “freelance”, and “freelance” means you’re an independent contractor. This means you’ll have to report your earnings on a 1099-MISC form. It also means you can make a number of business write-offs, including:

  • Any travel fees you pay for
  • Your cell phone and internet bill
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Scrubs and lab coats
  • Healthcare premiums
  • Work-related transportation

Apps like Expensify or Taxbot make keeping track of your expenses a cinch. It’s also good practice to keep your receipts or take pictures of all receipts in case you need to go back to review expenses or your employer requires a copy.

4. Learn about your destination and new home

Once you’ve arrived, don’t just keep your head down and work - take some time to explore the area you’re in! Even if you’re only there for a few days, don’t waste the opportunity to explore the community, no matter how big or small. Take a few minutes to find a jedi coffee warrior on Yelp who knows where the best cup is, or the distant relative you’re connected to on Facebook who has a fun group of friends in the area.

If you’re there for an extended period of time, take some time to search around on Google Maps to get a sense of how the community is laid-out. Or make your way to Instagram to learn more about what spots you might want to visit though search by location.

Get to know your new supervisor and ask if there are any organizations or groups within the hospital where you can get to know your fellow doctors. One of the biggest misconceptions about locum tenens doctors if that they are less committed to the hospital or medical institution they’re working at because they’re only there for a shorter period of time. Combat that by really taking the initiative to get involved in the community.

5. Start thinking about what’s next well-ahead of time

One of the keys to successful freelancing, or becoming a year-round locum tenens doctor, is to consistently look and think ahead. This means staying on top of your state licenses and certifications. Make sure you start the re-filing process months in advance so that you have time to deal with any potential complications that may arise.

If you’re looking to work in a new state for your next license, make sure to start as soon as you know where you plan to work because the process can take a few months. And if you obtain a new state license, and then work a job through Nomad, we’ll reimburse you the cost of obtaining that new license!

It also means keeping an eye on upcoming locum tenens or moonlighting jobs. The further ahead you look, the less likely you are to scramble and the greater your chances of finding that perfect next step. And here’s something else to think about:

  • 94% of healthcare facility managers use locum tenens to supplement their existing staff
  • 75% of healthcare facility managers use locum tenens to fill in until a permanent doctor is found.

This means that if once you’re in the swing of things you find you really like the job, you might want to consider submitting yourself as a permanent candidate.

We hope you’ve found some good reminders and solutions in this list. If you’ve got more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Nomad Navigators. If you’d like a more personalized career counseling session with a Navigator, click here to set up a session.

If you’re ready to find your next (or first!) freelance position, you can start searching here.

We’re here to support and cheer you on for every step of your locum tenens journey.


The Nomad Team