One of the first questions you might have about being a locum tenens physician is salary. How much do locum tenens doctors get paid? Will you be able to earn money from locum work on top of your regular salary? How much can you expect to earn in your specialization? While your earning potential as a locum is as flexible as the job itself, here’s how to narrow down what you can expect to earn as a locum tenens salary.
1. Decide Where You Want to Work
The first step to narrowing down how much you can earn as a locum is deciding where you would like to live. Are you willing to relocate? Locum rates for doctors will differ based on which province you live in. For example, the average annual billing amount for an Ontario physician is $309,000, while the average salary for a BC physician is $217,000. Depending on how much they work and what specialty they choose, an Ontario locum physician could expect to earn more than one in BC.
The area you choose to work changes your locum physician salary expectations in other ways too. While there are plenty of great locum jobs in urban settings, the most lucrative locum work will be in areas that incentivize doctors to move there. This can include rural settings, indigenous areas, or parts of the country that have doctor shortages. If you’re willing to move to one of these areas, even for a short period of time, you can expect to earn a much higher salary then you could as a locum in a city centre. Many provincial programs will not only pay locum doctors higher rates to take work in underserved areas, but will also include loan forgiveness programs to cover off your student debt. Programs like this can make relocation especially worthwhile for new doctors.
2. Decide How Much Work You Need
Locum rates for doctors are similar to, and sometimes higher than, the rate you would earn as a regular working physician. This is largely owing to the nature of the Canadian medical system. Under Canada’s single payer system, doctors bill the government directly for the work that they perform, with different fees associated for each service. For example, the average family doctor service bills for $50, the average surgical doctor bills for $91, and the average medical specialist bills for $87. Locum tenens pay rates will be consistent with these national averages, although the number of services that you will perform can vary – surgical or medical specialties often bill less patients then family doctors, but will have a higher billing amount per visit. Locum doctor salary in Canada will depend on how many of these services you perform during your contracted term.
How much do locum doctors get paid? Locum tenens pay rates sometimes include other factors, like salary, on top of the amount billed. These details will need to be discussed with the physician you are taking over from, as well as the hours you are willing to work. Many locum positions are quite lucrative, as doctors looking for a quick replacement might be incentivized to pay a locum physician salary that is higher than you would earn elsewhere to ensure proper coverage for their practice. This is likely the case the more specialized you are as a physician – clinics hiring a replacement anesthesiologist, for example, might be willing to pay more for someone who is experienced in the specialty then they would to replace a more popular specialization, like a family doctor.
3. Choose Your Hours
As a ‘substitute doctor’, you can choose when you want to step in, when you take vacation, and when you will start your locum practice. However, within the position itself, you will need to make some decisions about when to start working, when the hours of your coverage will extend to, and how much coverage you’re willing to provide. Just as there are incentives for doctors to work in underserved parts of the country, there may also be premiums in the locum rates for doctors who are willing to cover off undesirable hours, work overtime, or take a more stressful position.
It’s a good idea to first get an idea of what ‘normal’ hours look like in your specialization – if you’re a specialist who normally has a lot of on call time or overtime, will you be expected to work a similar schedule in your locum work? If you’re used to working stable hours at a family practice, will you be able to adapt to longer periods of coverage in an emergency room or walk-in clinic? The amount of hours you’re willing to work will directly affect your locum tenens doctor salary, so take this into consideration before you get started.
4. Think About Your Specialization
Physician locums in Canada might find it easier or harder to find locum work depending on their specialization – certain specializations are more in-demand than others, and will also earn you a higher locum tenen salary. Given the nature of the work, it’s not surprising that the most in-demand field for locum tenens doctors is emergency medicine and urgent care – crowded emergency rooms always need relief for their doctors, and often call on locums to assist in patient overflow during peak times, flu season, or on evenings and weekends. Also in demand are OB/GYNs and family medicine practitioners, who are often called on to fill in for other physicians in busy clinical and hospital settings.
Other popular locum specializations are psychiatrists, who are retiring in large numbers, and anesthesiologists, who are in-demand as few new doctors are entering the market. The demand for doctors in your specialization can have a big impact on how much you expect to earn, and fields where many existing doctors are retiring or there are few new graduates entering the market are great opportunities for locums.
5. Decide Whether Or Not To Travel
Although locum tenens doctor salary in Canada will be consistent with permanent physicians due to the nature of our billing system, this is not necessarily the case for physicians who work internationally. Depending on the specialization you choose, you might find that locum work in countries outside of Canada is more lucrative. This is especially true for medical and surgical specializations. These specialists can earn more money working in the United States than working in Canada, and locum work is a great way to decide whether or not you like working outside the Canadian system.
While salaries are sometimes more lucrative outside of Canada, make sure to consider some of the downsides as well – other medical systems may have a greater administrative cost, higher patient workload, or greater hassle in terms of billing and collecting payments.
6. Sign the Right Contract
Locum tenens salary will vary depending on the position, the hours, the location, and the doctor or doctors you will be covering for – but signing a solid contract will be important for both parties. Physician locums in Canada are regulated under the same governing bodies as regular physicians. You will be responsible for keeping your credentials up to date, but the terms of your employment as a locum will be handled by you and the doctor or agency who is interested in hiring you – this means it’s important to set out your pay expectations beforehand, as well as the hours you’re expected to work, the amount of vacation you’re able to take, and what will happen in the event that either party is interested in breaking the contract.
Physician locums in Canada have plenty of great options for locum work – with a little preparation and clear expectations between each party, you can set yourself up for a lucrative financial opportunity and increase your locum tenens salary!
If you want to learn all the ins and outs of locuming check out our Ultimate Locum Guide.