No matter how often we’re told that nursing is on the rise, jobs are plentiful and nurses in (most) areas are paid pretty well, there are still tons of unemployed nurses throughout the country. Whether you’re fresh out of school or have years of experience under your belt, you may find yourself looking at any and all options available. And even if you have a great job, it’s always good to at least know your options.
Cindy Leiffer, a nurse practitioner (NP), knows all too well the perils of trying to find a good gig. After injuries forced her to leave a permanent position, she found herself between jobs with her worker’s compensation just about to end as she wrapped up her recovery. Looking through many options, she discovered locum tenens, or traveling nursing and other healthcare professionals, who temporarily fulfill the duties of a specific job in a specific place. She signed up with Weatherby Healthcare, a prominent staffing agency that matches healthcare pros with the right facilities throughout the nation, and just recently completed a travel assignment in Vermont.
Check out our Q&A with Leiffer to get more insight into her career and how you could do the same:
Scrubs: How is locum tenens different than a regular travel nursing job?
Cindy: “Travel nursing” is used by RNs of all specialties, while Nurse Practitioners, like me, work locum tenens positions as advanced practice nurses, either in primary care or specialty roles.
Scrubs: What are the unique benefits of locum tenens?
Cindy: Working locum tenens assignments has given me the ability to focus solely on the clinical aspects of patient care. So much of the work in healthcare these days has become about the business and administrative end of things. Those of us in the locum tenens field are able to give patients our undivided attention and care. We still have to do the paper and computer work associated with direct patient care, but we don’t have the administrative duties or worries about the business aspects of a practice.
Locums is also unique in that it provides the opportunity to pick up additional income when you need it. If you’re in between jobs, or looking to use up some time-off from another position, you can bring in a decent income.
Scrubs: How did you get started in locum tenens? What would other nurses need to do to get started?
Cindy: The first time I did a locums job was in 2002, when my primary care job had been cut in a small town that was largely supported by a paper mill which had closed. I was not sure if or when I wanted to relocate and practice permanently, and taking a locum tenens assignment was a perfect way to maintain an income while I decided how to proceed with my career. I took a 3-month contract and ended up staying on for 14 months, until I found a permanent job that I wanted and relocated.
More recently, I had gone through a couple of surgeries and wasn’t able to work full-time for a while. It had become too difficult to keep up the pace I had been working prior to my injuries. There was so much administrative work and extra time associated with my job that full-time ended up being 50-60 hours a week, and I just didn’t have the stamina to do that anymore. I was really starting to worry about making all of my bills and loan payments, so I started researching different locum tenens agencies to see what they could offer me. Weatherby Healthcare had just what I was looking for, so I took a position that would give me a manageable 40 hour week with an hourly pay.
Scrubs: How is the pay versus what you would make with a full-time job at a hospital?
Cindy: The pay depends on which locum tenens agency you work with. Working with Weatherby, I’ve found the pay in locum tenens assignments to be comparable to a permanent position. The hourly rate calculates out as higher than it does on a salary. When I worked on salary in my last job, I was often working 60 hours a week, and I wasn’t really getting paid for a lot of those hours. One reason why I stick with Weatherby is because I get paid by the hour, with time and a half if I need to work more than 40 hours a week.
Scrubs: Are benefits included when working “in between” temporary assignments?
Cindy: Every locum tenens agency is different in what they offer to work through them. Weatherby Healthcare provides full malpractice insurance for me while I’m on assignment. My housing and travel expenses are also covered.
Scrubs: Have you taken locum tenens positions out of your home state?
Cindy: I just finished an assignment in Vermont. It’s such a beautiful area, and it was close enough to my home in Maine so I could still drive home every once in a while or have my family come visit me.
Scrubs: Do you think you’ll now stay locum tenens, or are you looking for a permanent, full-time job at home?
Cindy: I have accepted a job at home now, but I haven’t made a long-term commitment yet, I will probably always keep locum tenens options open. That’s really one of the biggest draws for everyone I know who’s tried locums: You can make it your full-time gig or just an every-once-in-a-while thing. Either way, there’s a lot of benefit there. Considering the current economy, and the healthcare climate, it’s nice to know that I can always fall back on locum tenens if a job falls through, gets too stressful or physically difficult for me, or if I could just use some additional income.
Scrubs: What advice would you give nurses who are unemployed and struggling to find work?
Cindy: Both times I’ve done locums, I’ve loved the jobs—even more than most of the other NP jobs I’ve had over the past 17 years. My consultant at Weatherby in particular has really become like a family member, and that is what was most important to me in an agency—working with someone who listened and understood exactly what was going to be best for me. There’s no end to the available locum tenens positions for nurse practitioners around the country, so I always suggest giving it a try. You never know if you might end up loving it so much that you decide locums is what you want to do permanently. Right now, I need to stay close to home for family reasons. If someone is mobile though, locum tenens is an excellent career option whether you’re just starting out, in the middle of your career, or winding down.
Let us know your thoughts on locums tenens and if you’ve ever considered traveling healthcare. Or, if you’ve already done it, we’d love to know your thoughts and reflections in the comments.
For more Career Advice for Nurses pick up the latest issue of Scrubs magazine, available at a retail store near you!