5 ways to prepare for a locums career right out of residency

Getting your first job out of residency is a major life decision, so wouldn’t it be nice to test out a location before you make a commitment? In fact, that’s the reason why many residents choose to work locum tenens out of residency.

Instead of settling for the first hospital that makes an attractive offer, locums allows you to explore your options and gain experience while waiting for the perfect opportunity to come along. Here are five tips that will help prepare you to work locum tenens straight out of residency. 

1. Look for opportunities to broaden your clinical experience

Locums physicians typically need a wide and varied knowledge base. You may be a brand-new attending physician, but the more broad-based your experience as a resident, the more attractive you will be a as locums candidate.

Brian McCormick, pediatrics team manager at Weatherby Healthcare, says that for his physicians, the ability to work across the entire spectrum of pediatrics is more important than specialization. He recommends pediatric residents do additional NICU rotations in their third year as well as choosing an elective rotation.

“In a rural area, you may be the only pediatrician within a 50- to 100-mile radius, and you’re going to need to be able to operate in a variety of settings in order to be marketable,” he says.

Internal medicine residents who hope to work as locum tenens hospitalists should get as much ICU experience as possible, says John Hunter, Jr., hospitalist team manager at Weatherby. “Most internal medicine doctors have a minimum of three months intensive ICU rounding to complete. You want to make sure you can speak to that.”

In addition to ICU experience, Hunter says knowing how to do procedures like lumbar punctures, central lines, and arterial lines can make you a stand-out candidate.

2. Align your expectations with where the jobs are

Many residents have their sights set on a big city for their first job, and while locations like Orlando and San Diego certainly need doctors, locums physicians are often most needed in rural and under-served areas.

“Most of our placements are rural areas or mid-size cities,” says Hunter. He recommends being flexible with where you start out. “You may think ‘I only want to work in New York City right out of graduation,’ but maybe taking a job for six months in upstate New York will open up opportunities to get you to your desired location.”

Dr. Simran Kalra, a pediatrician who started with locums right out of residency, works frequently in rural areas. “Rural locations need more help,” she says. “They may have only one physician who could cover the hospital, and they’re going to burn out. I come in and help relieve them and give them breaks.”

Young doctor and child patient

3. Develop a relationship with an agency early on

If you know you want to work locums when you’re finished with residency, it’s worth it to start contacting agencies early on.

Both McCormick and Hunter recommend starting the conversation in your final year of residency. Not only will this allow your consultant to get to know you and your preferences, it’ll also put you first in line for any positions that are a good match.

Finding the right consultant can take some time, and it’s a good idea to talk to a few different ones to see who you feel most comfortable with. “You want to work with a consultant that’s a good match for you personality-wise,” says Hunter.

McCormick also emphasizes clear communication with your consultant. “A lot of doctors express interest and few make it to the end, so showing your level of commitment will help make sure there is reciprocal effort on the other side.”

4. Be prompt with the paperwork

A good agency will assist you with the paperwork required to work locums — from licensing to credentialing — but it still requires effort on your part to make sure everything is done correctly.  

Because licensing can take time, McCormick recommends that new locums choose one or two states where they’d be willing to practice and apply for licenses there. Talking through your choices with your consultant is a good move — certain states tend to have more jobs than others, so your consultant can help you decide where you’ll be most competitive.

Dr. Matthew Dothager, a hospitalist, appreciated the support he received from Weatherby in getting through all the administrative tasks. “There’s a ton of paperwork when it comes to getting licensed in states to practice medicine. I was getting licensed in two states at once, so they were able to streamline the process so I could get practicing right out of residency,” he says.

5. Be realistic about the assignments available to you

Locums can be a great way to practice medicine, but like any profession, your options may be limited until you gain more experience. It’s best to stay open-minded and have clear communication with your consultant about your options.

“Flexibility is important,” says Hunter. “For example, you may come in with a certain feeling about working nights, but the facility may need you to work nights for a certain amount of time.”

McCormick advises new locums to try out an assignment even if it doesn’t match 100% of their needs. “They don’t need to be as hesitant as they would be with a permanent position,” he says, noting that it’s a bit easier to take risks with shorter assignments.

Assignment length can sometimes be a barrier to getting started and being flexible gives you a competitive advantage. “Hospital needs do not always fit the schedule you want, so you might want to turn down an opportunity that is only 5 days a month because you want something that is 15 days a month. We can find you several 3-day or 5-day assignments a month and build you a full schedule,” McCormick points out. “If you’re willing to work in more than one location, I can put you in an even better position than someone who won’t.”

Locum tenens out of residency

Many physicians find that working locum tenens out of residency helps them figure out where and how they want to practice.

“For me personally, working locums coming out of residency was an opportunity to work in multiple facilities and get a better understanding of what I’m looking for whenever I do eventually take a full-time position,” says Dr. Dothager.

Are you interested in learning more about working locum tenens out of residency? Give us a call at 954.343.3050 to speak to a consultant.