The Locum Tenens Experience: 7 Best Practices to Make It a Good One

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If you are working or have worked as a locum tenens physician, you probably know that not all placement firms are alike. Some firms have a mission simply to fill empty hospital staffing slots as quickly and reliably as possible. Others define and follow best practices that help make the most of the locum experience for providers and hospitals.

This brief guide highlights some of these best practices. Think of it as a checklist to use whenever you consider signing on with a placement firm. It could make the difference between a so-so assignment and a great one.

Best Practice #1: Take travel arrangements seriously.

Look for a firm that has a dedicated travel department and builds your itinerary according to your preferences. You might prefer to drive to an assignment if the hospital is within four or five hours from home. If it’s a longer trip, flying might be the best way to go. The best firms offer flexibility here, reimburse for gas at the prevailing mileage rate, and don’t require you to travel one way or another to get to an assignment. When you do fly, they should want to know whether you prefer a window or aisle seat. Some firms leave it up to the airline to assign seats. Others take a more proactive approach to ensure your flight is as enjoyable as possible.

Best Practice #2: Focus on provider comfort.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about going to a locum tenens assignment to discover you have been booked at some bargain motel by the interstate for the duration of your stay. The best travel departments let you “choose your chain,” and build their game plan around this and other preferences. Do you eat out most of the time while on assignment, or would you like a room with a small kitchen and a grocery store within walking distance of the hotel? Do you want to be near an aquatic center or health club, or is the hotel’s workout room sufficient? Preferences like these should be remembered and honored every time you take a new assignment.

Best Practice #3: Make convenience a top priority.

Locum placement firms should cover your travel expenses without expecting you to pay with your credit card and reimburse you later. They should also keep your frequent flyer and hotel loyalty numbers on file to be sure you get the points when bookings are made. (Some placement firms roll your points into their corporate account.) The best firms also maintain VIP-level contracts with rental car agencies, so getting your rental car is quick and easy. When you get off the plane, you want to get your keys and go. You shouldn’t have to wait in line, deal with insurance and other paperwork, or waste time waiting for rental car agents to find a car for you.

Best Practice #4: Be responsive and consistent.

Perhaps most important, a travel department should be accessible and ready to handle changes or issues day or night. Noisy hotel room? Mold issues in the bathroom? Uncomfortable bed? You should be able to report a problem, get it handled quickly, and be settled in a room to your liking within an hour or two. Consistency is another important quality when it comes to placement firms’ travel departments. It’s annoying to be switched back and forth between people, or to have to explain a request or issue multiple times. When you go to work, you should simply be able to pick up a key and go to your room, secure in the knowledge that everything is handled without multiple phone calls or texts on your part.

Best Practice #5: Make credentialing painless.

If you are interested in or take an assignment in a state where you are not currently licensed, your placement firm should work with you to make licensing and credentialing smooth and painless. When possible, the firm should file any documents on your behalf, taking a major paperwork burden off your shoulders. The firm should also guide you regarding which states have a more difficult and lengthy licensing process, and should help you start the process early if you are considering an assignment in one of those states. Best practices dictate a proactive approach here. The firm should provide you with everything needed to complete the process in a way that is timely and hassle-free.

Best practice #6: Pay promptly and regularly.Being a 1099 independent contractor or locum tenens physician or healthcare provider allows for competitive compensation which is typically based on either hourly shifts or daily rates. The best placement firms pay providers on a regular schedule of every two weeks for services rendered, and cover medical liability insurance, travel and lodging expenses.

Best practice #7: Have a philosophy that goes beyond the literal meaning of “locum tenens.”As you probably know, “locum tenens” is a Latin phrase meaning “to hold a place.” The best placement firms, however, go beyond the literal meaning to deliver providers who add significant value to the hospitals where they work. An understanding of a hospital’s unique culture is essential to ensure the right match between provider and facility. Ask if the firm has physician leadership; it can make a big difference in building respect within the healthcare community and attracting a strong, reputable network of hospital-trained and clinic-based locum tenens physicians.