Are you considering adding another revenue stream to your practice? You should consider intermittent locum tenens, says Todd Barnes, a clinical business administrator in Oklahoma.

With low overhead and a flexible schedule, locum tenens can be very lucrative. It might even help you combat burnout.

Locum tenens is gig work for a physician who literally “takes the place of” another physician while they are on vacation, out sick, or away on maternity leave. Some places hire locum tenens doctors simply because of the shortage of neurologists.

The length of coverage can vary. If you already have a job, it is important to know that it can be done intermittently.

“We’ve been using quite a bit of locum tenens at our place, and some of them work just a weekend here and there. It is extremely lucrative,” says Barnes. “I was shocked to see how much we were paying. Obviously, all that doesn’t go to the physician, some goes to the company.”

The “company” he is referring to is a staffing agency.

Most physicians find locum tenens positions through staffing agencies. The National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO), an organization responsible for setting industry standards and ethical guidelines, lists more than 70-member agencies, writes neurologist Andrew Wilner, author of The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens.

Though most physicians use an agency to find this kind of work, it is possible to do it independently (and make more money), says Dr. Val Jones in her KevinMD post, “Interested in being a locum tenens physician? Read this first.”

“Agencies provide significant value to physicians,” she writes. “They do the hard work of locating and updating job assignments, assisting with credentialing and licensing paperwork, negotiating salary and overtime, providing professional liability insurance, and handling logistics (travel/lodging booking and re-booking).”

Jones provides ratings for a number of agencies she has worked for, and shares that she only commits to a short initial assignment – about two weeks – and then extends once she feels comfortable with the match.

Whether you work for an agency or directly for a practice, Barnes recommends looking very carefully at the wording of any contract before you sign. In particular, watch out for non-competes in your state.

“Be very careful about restrictive covenants on them,” he says. “Make sure you’re not signing away your right to do something later that you want to do if you leave the company.”

With those caveats in place, locum tenens can be an ideal source of additional revenue for neurologists, particularly because it also comes with additional benefits.

Doing this kind of work can provide insight into how others solve some of the more challenging aspects of practicing neurology today. This can help you make your own improvements. It can also open your eyes to a practice environment that might be a better fit.

Barnes and his team in Oklahoma recently hired one of their locums full-time.

“He worked several times with us, and we had an opening for a critical care doc and he was on board,” he says. “So, it can actually work out into some positions that you may not have even known about down the road. You can kind of try it before you buy it.”

Doing locum tenens work intermittently has another benefit, writes Jones – part-time and short-term physician assignments can prevent physician burnout and overwork. Neurologists happen to be some of the most burned out of all physicians.

Wilner agrees. In his blog post, “Locum Tenens Combats Burnout: One Neurologist’s View,” Wilner writes that one of the great benefits of locum tenens is the lack of administrative hassle.

“Locum tenens physicians focus on patient care,” he adds. “That’s it.”

Now that could be a refreshing change.

Special thanks to Todd Barnes, MBA, Clinical Business Administrator, Departments of Neurology/Neurosurgery at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for his insights on this issue.