Contracts are a normal part of practicing medicine as a locum tenens physician. With each new assignment comes a new contract that has to be reviewed and signed. Perhaps this is the one part of locum tenens practice you find least attractive.
You do not have to be a lawyer to understand the basics of a locum contract. You can engage in a little bit of self-education to learn what a basic contract looks like. Otherwise, feel free to run your contracts by an attorney if you are just not understanding the language.
With every locum contract, there are three specific things to pay attention to. They can be quite problematic if not fully understood.
1. How Insurance is Handled
Medical malpractice insurance is a big issue for doctors of all stripes. It is particularly concerning for locums given that they work temporary assignments at a variety of facilities. The big question in this regard is who pays for it?
It is not unusual for staffing agencies to offer group coverage to all of their locums. Agency-provided medical malpractice insurance is an incentive that recruiters can use to bring more doctors on board. If you are looking at an agency that offers free insurance, be sure to check on tail coverage in addition to the standard policy.
In other cases, the hiring facility covers locums under their own medical malpractice insurance. It is cheaper for them than paying higher premiums to staffing agencies or clinicians. As for the clinicians, they might have to procure their own insurance for one reason or another.
2. Contract Termination
Sometimes situations arise in which either the clinician or the hiring facility feels it necessary to cancel a locum contract. Cancellation language is especially important because it stipulates how much notice is required and what the penalties are for canceling within the notice period.
The standard rule of thumb is to allow contract cancellation with 30 days’ notice. This applies on both ends. If you feel you need more time you can certainly request a contract language change. Just be sure to read and fully understand any penalties that might come with contract cancellation.
3. Non-Compete Clauses
Non-compete language may be added to a contract by either a staffing agency or hiring facility. Your typical non-compete clause prevents the clinician from working at the same facility through a different staffing agency or independently for a given period of time.
Such clauses are intended to protect the integrity of the staffing agency’s business. However, such language could prevent you from maximizing the freedom and flexibility that comes with being a locum. At the very least, do not accept a non-compete clause that restricts you for more than two years.
Assuming you take assignments that average between three and six months in length, a two-year clause would cover between four and eight assignments. That is sufficient time for your staffing agency’s interest to be protected.
Sign Only When You Are Sure
As a locum tenens clinician, you are not expected to be a legal expert. Yet you do not have to sign a contract you are unsure of. If there are ever any questions that make you uneasy about a given contract, run it by an attorney first. If that’s not possible, at least ask a more experienced colleague to look it over. The more eyes reading the language, the more input you will get.
Sign the contract only when you’re sure you understand what’s in it. Contracts should work as much to your advantage as they do the staffing agency and hiring facility.