8 Things Locums Should Do Before Getting Started

Kristen Campbell
June 19, 2020

There are plenty of options for locum doctors, including different locum tenens companies, different type of positions and specializations, and different options for whether you want your role to be short or long term. You could work in your local area, or halfway around the world! The freedom and flexibility of locum jobs is what makes them such a great way to explore your medical practice, but it also means lots of things to think about. So, where do you start? Here are 8 simple steps that will get you on your way sooner:


1. Decide Where You Want to Work

One of the benefits of being a locum is the flexibility. Do you want to find a local role, or look outside of the country? Will you want to move provinces or look internationally? The answers to these questions will determine your process for finding locum work. Doctors looking locally might be able to find a great position on a healthcare board or other medical employment opportunity, but if you’re going international, you might need to start looking into the various locum tenens companies that can offer you different things in terms of your future as a locum. 

When you’re making the decision about where to work, decide on how long you want to stay. Are you looking for a stable position that will last several years, or a change for a few months? Have you decided to take the first position you find, or are you determined to be more choosy? When you’re thinking of something longer term, it might make sense to broaden your horizons. If you’re interested in a shorter term role, it likely means staying closer to home. 

Deciding where you want to work should also involve looking at your reasons for choosing locum work. Doctors who want a locum tenens role to travel might have a different mindset when choosing a position then a doctor who is choosing a position based on retirement. Keep all of this in mind when you’re looking, and know how flexible you want to be.


2. Look for Openings

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, your next step is to look at the job openings there are available. Even if you’re thinking of going internationally, your first step might be to look at the job boards for locums in the area. Do they have many openings for your specialization? Are you interested in working in the types of practices that they have on offer? If you’re not interested in the type of work in a particular area, you might have to choose a different one – Australia might be your dream vacation, but if there are no locum jobs for anesthesiologists, you might either have to choose something ahead of time, or pick somewhere else. 

If you’re looking locally, there are plenty of options – for example locummunity, locums or general, job board sites like Indeed, social media, or word of mouth. In addition, government websites and retention programs might have more leads, especially if you’re willing to relocate to areas where your specialization is in demand. Northern or rural recruitment programs also have openings for locums, and these can often come with higher salaries or loan reimbursement for doctors willing to work in underserved areas. 

How long can locum tenens work? It depends on the opening! Locum jobs can be coverage for a single afternoon, the duration of a maternity leave, or several years to cover a research term. There’s no limit to locum positions, so the one that you choose will have a big impact on your locum experience. 


3. Ask the Right Questions

More than any other medical position, locum work doctors need to be thorough in finding out what they are getting involved in. Before accepting an offer, you need to make sure you’ve asked the right questions so you know if it’s a right fit for you. How many patients can you expect? What kind of term is the medical practice looking for? How many other doctors will you be working with on a day to day basis?

Get clear on what is required of you in terms of when you will start your day, the kinds of patients you will be expected to cover, and whether things like your accommodation or travel expenses will be covered by the clinic. Be sure to ask about any specialized or complex patient profiles, any important procedures or staffing issues, and any relevant passwords, as this information will be crucial in making your decision and fitting smoothly into your new role.


4. Choose a Great Agency

While there are plenty of options available for you as a locum, the physicians you are filling in for want to make sure that they have a qualified replacement representing your practice. When you start work as a locum doctor somewhere outside your local area, you will likely need someone to handle the credentialing process for locum tenens – this is where the locum tenens companies will come in.

Companies like Physicians for You or locummunity will vet the credentialing requirements for locum tenens and make sure items like your vaccination records, educational qualifications, board certifications, and other crucial pieces of information are up to date.

 

5. Prepare Your Tax Documents

Once you’ve chosen a new role, it’s time to get your tax information in order. Since you’re operating as an independent contractor when you work as a locum, you will need to report this income on your tax return. If you normally take on a salaried role or you are paid through a clinic instead of directly through billing, you may need to register for a sales tax number through your provincial regulatory body. If you’re planning on leaving the country to work as a locum, it’s a good idea to do some research into how many days you are able to leave the country, what tax preparation steps you can take to prevent you from paying tax in both countries, and how to keep track of your worldwide income!


6. Sign a Contract

Like any job, it’s important to get what is expected of you in writing before you start. Make sure that both you and the physician you are standing in for are on the same page with the hours of coverage required, the number of patients you’ll be seeing, and any other details about the staffing arrangement. Since the doctor you’re covering for might not be available to ask questions, make sure that the terms of your contract are specific enough to cover what you need – what to do in the event of an absence, the number of flex or vacation days, and the exact terms of your coverage arrangement, including holidays. Don’t forget to negotiate. Negotiating locum contracts is common practice so if there’s something in your contract you’d like to change – speak up.


7. Attend Your Orientation

A great locum position should come with the right amount of training, so you’re not lost on your first day. Make sure to tour the clinic where you’ll be working, meet the other doctors, and connect with the staff who will be handling your billing. For international jobs, try to make a short trip to the clinic where you’ll be working if possible – otherwise, ask to meet staff through video conferences or phone calls. Make sure to meet the whole team if possible – if you don’t like the atmosphere of your new office, you won’t be able to make a smooth transition into your new role! Knowing what to expect is key to having a successful first day.


8. Prepare your Patients

Since you will be replacing another physician, the clinic where you work will likely need to notify this doctor’s patients prior to your arrival. If you’re taking on a very short term position, or you’re working in an environment like a walk-in clinic or emergency room where doctors are seeing many patients at once, this may not be necessary. However, in a family medicine or specialist situation, you are likely going to need time to prepare. The patients might have lots of questions – what is your background? Do you have a similar style to your other doctor? Are locum doctors any good? Answering these questions is often done in the form of a letter or an email announcing the physician going on leave and introducing you as their replacement. 

Find out from the doctor you are covering for if there are any specialized or complicated patient scenarios ahead of time so you don’t have any unexpected surprises, and you will be well on your way to getting your locum practice started!

 

Conclusion

Now that you know more about how to get started in your locum practice, it’s easy to make more informed decisions about where you want to work, the kind of patients you’ll be seeing, and the jobs available to your specialization. Wherever you want to end up, you can be sure that your time working as a locum will be a great addition to your medical career!

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