Considering Locum Tenens? Freedom, Good Pay, and Some Risks

Neil Chesanow


March 08, 2017

In This Article

A Growing Demand for Locum Tenens

Internist Geeta Arora, MD, a hospitalist based in New York who is licensed to practice in six states, was drawn to a locum tenens career because "I wanted the opportunity to be present with people in some of the most vulnerable times in their lives and be able to help them when they are most vulnerable."[1]

What internist William S. Gruss, MD, of Boca Raton, Florida, likes about being a locum tenens is having "a more defined work schedule.[2] When I am on, I am on, and when I am off, I am off. This is a nice change from when I was in private practice, or even as an employed physician in an outpatient setting, where I was getting paged frequently by the answering service."

For Lawrence, Massachusetts, psychiatrist Lawrence H. Climo, MD, who has done locum tenens stints in Arizona, North Carolina, and New Hampshire, "It was not adventure or time for travel I craved when I initially signed on... I had some serious thinking to do, and getting away to do it seemed like the ticket."[3]

Bruce M. Lovelace IV, MD, a psychiatrist in Portsmouth, Virginia, recalls the year he spent as a locum tenens in Wellington, New Zealand.[4] "It was different from just traveling to a country for a week or two," he remembers. "You really change the way you live. There's a lot of things to get used to, but it's a lot of fun."

Locum tenens, which is Latin for "placeholder," refers to a physician working in a hospital, large group practice, or clinic on a temporary basis.[5,6] The practice could be in the same state, another state where the physician has or will get a license to practice, or another part of the world.

Most opportunities are in rural areas where doctors are in short supply. Employers usually work through a locum tenens placement firm that keeps a roster of physicians who do locum work. Assignments can vary from a few weeks to a year or longer. Some locums are offered permanent positions if the fit is right.

A growing number of hospitals, medical groups, and other healthcare organizations are attracting locums at a fast pace to fill gaps in care. Staff Care, a locum placement firm, found that about 48,000 doctors were doing locum work in 2016, up from 44,000 in 2014 and 26,000 in 2002.[7]

Primary care physicians were in the greatest demand by employers in need of temporary physician staffing, the survey found.[7] Hospitalists, behavioral health specialists, and emergency physicians were highly sought after too.

Locum Tenens Work Has Pros and Cons

Although many doctors rave about the benefits of becoming a locum tenens, there can be potential drawbacks to accepting such stints. It is wise to do your due diligence before accepting an assignment.

Some doctors advise that jumping on the locum track can sabotage your full-time career ambitions down the road. An anesthesiologist on a popular blog site cautions that full-time employers may be leery and question your work ethic when they see that you have racked up locum stints.

Another doctor warned that you may be treated as an outsider and therefore miss out on an opportunity to be mentored and taught valuable things to advance your career. Being assigned to manage a load of high-risk cases is yet another pitfall, according to doctors who have tested the locum tenens waters.

Another potential drawback is that because locum work pays so well, facilities who use locum tenens physicians may prefer to replace them with a full-time staff member.


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