Locum tenens can be beneficial for a wide variety of providers (nurse practitioner, physician assistant, physician, dentist, CRNA), especially those who are just beginning their career or are nearing the end of it. According to the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO), 90% of U.S. healthcare facilities use locum tenens providers, and more than 50,000 providers take on locum tenens assignments each year. But there may be some providers for whom locum tenens is not an appropriate choice. Each provider should weigh the pros and cons of locum tenens before deciding whether or not to switch to that type of work.
One of the biggest benefits of locum tenens is flexibility. Locum tenens providers can work in different healthcare organizations, as well as different cities and states. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for providers to practice in other states by relaxing licensing requirements. Providers can also obtain emergency licensure in order to take on new assignments quicker. Locum tenens allows providers to see what types of environments they might be interested in working in before making a full-time commitment. Not only that, but it can also give providers more time to spend with family or take vacations, which can reduce the risk of burnout.
Con: Travel and Time Away
While the ability to travel can definitely be a perk of working locum tenens, it can also be one of the most significant drawbacks. If you take an assignment in a different city or state, you may be looking at weeks or months away from your family and friends. This can be especially difficult for providers with young children or sick loved ones. Some providers may be able to bring their families with them, but that’s not an option for everyone. Additionally, if you are constantly taking assignments outside of your hometown, you may be spending a lot of time on the road or in airports. That can be unappealing for some, especially if the job is short-term.
Pro: Potential for Better Pay
Pay rates for locum tenens providers are market-driven, according to the NALTO, meaning they reflect the demand for a particular provider. If you’re in a specialty that has a shortage, then there is the potential for even higher pay. In general, however, locum tenens providers tend to have a higher hourly or daily pay rate than full-time employees at the same facility. Locum tenens providers may also be able to have certain costs, such as lodging, covered by the staffing agency.
Con: Finding Your Own Benefits
Because locum tenens providers are not full-time employees, you will have to be responsible for your own benefits, such as health insurance. Whichever organization you are working for will not subsidize your premiums, so you will have to pay them yourself each month. You’ll also have to get your own retirement plan. You will have to do some research to figure out the best options for your unique situation, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing—you’ll have more options than you would with an employer-sponsored plan, and there may be tax benefits down the line.
Beyond insurance and retirement, you’ll also want to consider that independent contractors (which is what locum tenens providers are) also do not receive paid sick days or PTO. That means you could potentially lose out on income if you are unable to work due to illness, or if you take time off for a vacation.
Like any decision you make in life, figuring out if locum tenens is right for you will take some consideration. If the benefits outweigh the drawbacks — for example, you enjoy traveling and have the freedom to do so — locum tenens might be a worthwhile experience for you.
But if it’s important for you to stay close to home or to have employer-sponsored benefits, locum tenens might not be a good fit for you.