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Locum Tenens vs. Permanent Placement: Which Career Path is Better for You?

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Making a change in your career is scary no matter how many years you’ve been in practice. To get to where want to be, however, taking that next step may be necessary.


We all come to a point in our lives when our jobs no longer give us the fulfillment we need, or they make us feel like we have to compromise our personal lives. This path inevitably leads to unhappiness, disengagement and burnout—all of which set you up for failure.


Too many people stick with jobs they hate, and the numbers show: Over half of Americans are unhappy at work, and a staggering 87 percent of them are disengaged. They would rather be comfortably miserable than pursue the unknown to find better opportunities.


Of course the uncertainty is scary, and there’s a whole list of things to consider before taking on a new job. For starters, one major decision physicians need to make is whether they want to work a locum tenens or permanent assignment for their next career move.


The type of assignment you want totally depends on your personal and professional goals, as well as the type of lifestyle you want. To help you navigate your options, this guide will outline the pros and cons you need to consider when choosing between a locum or perm job.


Pros and Cons of Locum Tenens


There’s been a major industry shift in recent years driving more physicians to go locum tenens. In fact, over 90 percent of U.S. medical facilities are using temporary assignments to fill in the gaps of their staff, creating a huge market for this line of work.


No matter your specialty, you have a ton of options for locum tenens jobs. The vast selection of quality opportunities isn’t the only benefit though. Physicians also appreciate the flexibility and autonomy locum assignments offer. Many of these jobs give you the option for block scheduling, flex hours and allow you to vary between day, night and swing shifts. With locum tenens, your schedule is what you make it.


You can work whenever and wherever you want and even get help with credentialing and licensing if you work with a good staffing agency. The potential for moving can be a pro or con, depending on your situation.


For example, physicians with families need to consider how the extra traveling might affect them. They can seek jobs in highly desirable areas that their family will be happy to call home, or if the physician has to live away from their family while on assignment, their staffing agency should offer travel assistance so that they can see their loved ones in their off-time.

Another benefit of locum tenens is that it offers more opportunities to learn. These assignments expose physicians to various settings, teams and patient populations that they might not otherwise get to experience. These jobs are great resume builders, so they’re especially useful for physicians who are fresh out of residency, looking to make a change in their medical discipline or even just looking to gain new skills.


On the flipside, this very benefit also adds more pressure for physicians to be adaptive in their work style. Locum providers are expected to embrace the novelty and challenges that come on the job, and they have to do it quickly.


Perhaps the best perk of locum tenens work is that physicians make more money than they would working salaried jobs. Locum tenens providers work as 1099 contractors, so they get paid at higher rates. In addition, locum physicians have fewer fixed expenses if they’re working with a staffing agency. Then all of their travel and lodging while on assignment will be covered.


Locum providers also suffer less personal risks on the job. Most staffing agencies will pay for physicians’ medical malpractice, which is a huge incentive for specialty physicians like obstetricians and surgeons who have astoundingly high premiums. One report showed that general surgeons in the state of New York pay upwards of $141,600 in annual premiums, and ob/gyns might pay a whopping $195,900.


On a final note, locum tenens assignment are great because of the flexibility and autonomy they allow, but physicians should also be wary of what it means to be an independent contractor. If a physician doesn’t have an agency to represent them, it may be harder to get a facility to accommodate them.


Because locum tenens providers ultimately work for themselves, the facility may not offer as much support as it does for its own employees, which is why having an agency on your side will make your locum tenens experience much more enjoyable.


Pros and Cons of Permanent Placement


For physicians who crave routine and a consistent income, permanent placement may be the way to go. This line of work offers a set schedule that consists of about 15 shifts per month on average and an annual salary with some productivity and quality measure bonuses.


With perm, there is also much less pressure to take on too much too quickly. In fact, many facilities pace providers at a lower census in their first few months, so they don’t get overwhelmed early on.


The downside, however, is typically the salaries are lower than what physicians might make at a locum tenens rate. These opportunities also have less flexible scheduling and require long-term commitments, as the average perm contract lasts at least two years.


While some physicians may love having those set shifts, others may feel that the job begins to get monotonous. Permanent placement is great for those who want to settle down in their careers, but physicians looking to learn new things on the job may grow weary of the routine.


Working the same hours, with the same team and patient population offer less exposure to novel situations from which physicians can learn.


Still Can’t Decide? The Solution is Easy.


What choice works best for you depends on various factors: your workstyle, your affinity for routine, your non-work commitments, your future goals, etc. The point is that neither is good or bad as a career path, but one may just be more compatible with you at a particular point in your life.


That said, even the job structure doesn’t determine whether or not a job will be perfect for you. Nobody walks into their first day of work in a new position knowing for sure that it will be their dream job.


Imagine if you could test drive a position before committing long term. Well with locum-to-perm opportunities you can. These jobs typically start with a three-month contract that you can choose to extend for how ever long you want. Why choose between locum tenens and perm when you can do both?  


Whatever you decide for your next career move though, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. You don’t have to brave it all on your own either. You may be hesitant to work with a recruiter because you think they’ll try to swindle you into an undesirable job—and you’re not wrong. Many will try.


That’s why if you decide to work with a staffing agency, make sure it’s one you can trust that puts you first and gives you all the care, resources and tools you need for success so that you can get back to what you do best.


Just remember: When you find a job that makes you happy, everyone—you, your patients, your facility, your community—wins. If you want help getting there, we are happy to serve you.


Contact us today to learn about our locum tenens, permanent placement and locum-to-perm opportunities available now! Your pursuit of happiness and success starts with this single step.