Starting out as a locum means jumping into a whole new world you’re not familiar with. Sure, the medical part of locum practice really is no different. A broken arm is treated the same way whether you are a locum or a hospital employee. What’s different is the mindset. Locum tenens clinicians view the world through entirely different lenses.

Are you thinking about embarking on a locum tenens career? Are you currently employed but looking to locum tenens to earn some extra money? In either case, below are five things every new locum should know from the very start.

1. Locums Are Self-Employed Contractors

The IRS recognizes locum tenens clinicians as self-employed contractors for tax purposes. So even if you work with a staffing agency that helps you find and land assignments, you are still your own boss. This is good in the sense that it gives you maximum control over how you practice. You get to choose your contracts. You get to negotiate with employers, you get to determine where and when you work.

Note that as a self-employed contractor you are also responsible for your own taxes. You might already be comfortable with doing taxes in which case it is no big deal. But if the thought of handling your own taxes is frightening, you could always turn your financials over to an accountant.

2. A Great Recruiter is Like Gold

The vast majority of locum tenens clinicians work with staffing agencies rather than trying to find contracts themselves. They quickly learn how valuable a good recruiter is. In fact, the best recruiters are like gold. They quickly come to understand what it is you’re looking for in future assignments. They get to know your travel preferences, your housing preferences, and the kinds of employees you tend to work best with.

3. Compensation is Negotiable

Many first-time locums do not fully grasp the power they have to negotiate their own compensation. Remember, you are a self-employed contractor when you take locum tenens work. You are free to ask for any salary you want. That doesn’t mean you’ll get it, but at least asking for what you want opens the door to negotiations. The flip side is that you don’t have to accept a salary you believe is inappropriate to your skills and abilities. If you cannot work out an agreeable number, move on to the next contract.

4. Locations Will Vary

Every new locum should know right from the start that locations will vary. Some of the locations you visit you will absolutely love. You’ll love them so much that you’ll want to go back time and again. You’ll find other locations you could easily live without. Some might even be a one-and-done affair for you. That’s okay. Locums can choose where they want to work.

5. Agencies Help with Insurance and Credentialing

The fifth and final thing every new locum should know from the start is that agencies almost always assist with insurance and credentialing. Where insurance is concerned, a growing number of agencies offer free or reduced-cost medical malpractice insurance as a way to attract clinicians. Where credentialing is concerned, agencies almost always handle the paperwork when clinicians are visiting a new location for the first time.

There is a lot more to learn about locum tenens not discussed here. The beauty is that most of it can be learned as you go. And if you ever run into snags along the way, just give your recruiter a call. Between you, your recruiter, and your temporary employer, you can figure out just about anything.