The Locum Tenens Physician Assistant Guide
The physician assistant field is one of the fastest-growing career paths in America right now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of physician assistants will increase by 31% by 2028. It’s not just full-time physician assistant positions that are increasing, there is also a demand for temporary physician assistants. In other words, if you wanted to work as a locum tenens physician assistant, you should have absolutely no problem finding work over the next decade.
What is a Locum Tenens Physician Assistant?
Locum tenens is a latin phrase that translates as “one holding place.” In other words, locum tenens is a freelancer, substitute or contractor. So if you are trained as a physician assistant but not ready to settle into a full-time job with a single employer, you could work as a locum tenens physician assistant for as long as you want. The outlook of what it means “to work” is changing. We see this in the rise of the gig economy, the proclivity of doctors to take medical sabbaticals or even choosing to be a part-time doctor permanently. The take away here is more workers, medical professionals included, want to have more control over their time and be less controlled by their work.
This is where locum tenens physician assistant jobs comes into play. You can take a contract on for a couple months, take a few weeks off, then take another contract somewhere else for another few months. Flexibility and variety is what locum tenens can mean in the medical world.
The importance of signing a locum tenens contract
Most locum tenens physician assistants are self-employed, so each new job will come with a contract outlining the duties you are expected to fulfill and for what time period. The contract will also detail your compensation. While your exact salary will depend on where you’re working and for how long, a locum tenens physician assistant generally make around $60 – $125 per hour on average. Be on the look out for these details in your contract as well:
- Pay schedule
- Temporary housing options offered by the employer
- Travel cost coverage if you need to relocate
- Temporary benefits, if any
Why Work as Locum Tenens Physician Assistant?
As mentioned, the demand for physician assistants in growing in general. To fill the gaps in employment, it is common for hospitals or private medical practices to hire a locum tenens physician assistant until they find someone full-time. There are lots of benefits to being a locum tenens PA, including:
The number one reason locum tenens positions are so popular is because you have more control over your schedule than regular W-2 employees. If you only want to work a few days a week as a locum tenens PA, you can choose to do so. On the other hand, if you’re looking for longer temporary positions, there are options that are a few months to a year.
The ability to gain experience in multiple specialties
PAs are needed all around the country and within many different specialties. Locum tenens positions can allow you to try out different types of physician assistant roles in a shorter period of time. This “scoping out” is more common among locum tenens physicians, but PAs benefit, too. If you want to work in a hospital for a few months and a private practice for a few months after that, to figure out which one you like better, you can easily do so.
Earning additional income as needed
One of the best ways to get rich as a doctor (or physician assistant) is strategically plan your work schedule. If you don’t have kids or major responsibilities, you can work as a locum tenens physician assistant on the side. There are plenty of locum tenens positions that are just a shift or two. If you need extra cash here in there, taking on a few of these shifts is an easy way to earn additional income. Just make sure how much you work is outlined in your contract.
Doctors and nurses aren’t the only ones that suffer from burnout. Physician assistants also face extremely high levels of burnout, with 64% to 80% of PAs reporting feeling overworked. The medical field is a difficult one that requires long hours and on-call shifts. Pair that with participating in life and death decisions, and burnout is bound to happen.
The Downsides of Working as a Locum Tenens
Being a temporary worker isn’t always the ideal situation for everyone. A couple of downsides to locum tenens positions are:
No full-time benefits
A locum tenens physician assistant won’t have access to the same top doctor benefits their full-time counterparts do. Employers only really offer health insurance and retirement account options to those who are committed to working there on a regular basis.
No opportunity for growth
When you work in the same place for years, you have the ability to grow your career and income opportunities. Moving around frequently and taking temporary jobs won’t exactly help you rise in the ranks. Make sure you weigh the costs of having a more relaxed schedule with your overall career goals before deciding to become a locum tenens.
You’ll need to adapt to new systems often
All medical practices operate differently. Each time you take a new position, you’ll have to learn the rules and protocols specific to that hospital or practice. This can be stressful for those who take longer to get into the swing of things.
Malpractice Insurance as a Locum Tenens Physician Assistant
Medical malpractices cases are not limited to surgeons or attending physicians. Physician assistants, even working locum tenens, are at risk of being sued. As you know, all of the medical procedures a physician assistant participates in or conducts are signed off on by an attending physician. That said, if a patient or patient’s family suspects malpractice, you could find yourself involved in a lawsuit.
For this reason, physician assistants working through locum tenens agencies should ask if medical malpractice insurance is provided to them while under contract. Bigger agencies may offer comprehensive insurance, so there’s no need to purchase your own. However, if you’re working on your own or for a smaller private practice, you’ll need to purchase your own policy.
Taxes as a Locum Tenens PA
Locum tenens are independent contractors, which means they’re responsible for paying all of their own taxes. Instead of receiving a W-2, you receive 1099s, which can similarly be used to report income to the IRS when you go to file your taxes.
Generally, locum tenens are responsible for three different types of tax:
- State income tax
- Federal income tax
- Self-employment tax (Social security and Medicare tax)
How much money you need to set aside for taxes will differ based on your taxable income. Self-employment tax, on the other hand, is the same for all self-employed individuals – 15.3%.
How to Find Locum Tenens Physician Assistant Jobs
When you’re looking for a locum tenens physician assistant job, there are a few job listing sites that can show you opportunities all over the country. LocumTenens.com is one of the more popular sites, with over 90,000 listings. Weatherbyhealthcare.com is another option that lets you search for PA positions by specialty. Finally, staffcare.com shows you jobs based on salary and location.