What Is Locum Tenens?

Healthcare provider chatting with patient

Last Updated June 8, 2023

One of the common terms you’ll hear in relation to healthcare staffing is “locum tenens.” But what is locum tenens, and what is locum tenens staffing? Understanding what this term means in the medical industry can be mutually beneficial for healthcare staffing agencies, healthcare facilities, and doctors.

What Does Locum Tenens Mean?

Locum tenens is a Latin term, defined as someone who substitutes for or temporarily fulfills the duties of another person. Today, it is most commonly used in the medical industry.

Therefore, a locum doctor is a doctor who is working as a substitute for the regular physician, whether that be due to illness, vacation, maternity leave, or another reason.

What Is Locum Tenens Staffing?

Locum tenens staffing is a system in which a medical staffing agency contracts doctors as independent contractors to work in a healthcare facility on a temporary basis. A locum tenens staffing agency matches qualified locum tenens physicians with hospitals, rural community health centers, outpatient facilities, and other medical facilities that need help addressing staffing shortages.

The most successful healthcare staffing agencies hire employees to various healthcare contracts, such as locum tenens, rather than simply looking to fill full-time positions.

How Do Locum Tenens Doctors Get Paid?

Locum physicians essentially work as independent contractors who get temporary jobs through a locum tenens physician staffing agency. They are not paid by the healthcare facilities they work at — instead, these facilities pay the staffing agency, which then pays the locum tenens doctor.

Why Do Healthcare Clients Use Locum Tenens Physicians?

There are a variety of reasons why a healthcare facility might wish to supplement its normal workforce with locum tenens physicians:

Physician Vacation

Doctors experience a lot of stress in their day-to-day roles, putting them at a much higher risk of burnout than the general population. While physicians need to periodically take a vacation, people still need care while they’re gone. Locum doctors can fill in when a physician is taking a sabbatical or on vacation.

Chronic Understaffing

Many parts of the country are medically under-served, particularly rural and inner-city areas. For healthcare facilities that struggle to fill permanent openings, locum providers can offer much-needed support. This can be especially helpful in areas where physicians are more likely to experience burnout. Regularly acquiring new locum tenens doctors ensures quality care for patients.

Supplement During Peak Seasons

Many healthcare facilities see significant fluctuations in patient needs throughout the year. Rather than hiring a large permanent staff, it is often more cost efficient to supplement a smaller permanent staff with locum doctors during “peak” seasons.

Help Filling a Permanent Vacancy

It may take a while to fill a permanent vacancy at a healthcare facility — but this doesn’t mean that the expertise of an advanced practice provider won’t be needed during that time. Locum tenens services help fill that gap until a permanent solution can be found, allowing a healthcare facility to continue providing that service to its patients.

Benefits for a Locum Provider

While utilizing a nursing agency to fill temporary needs can be beneficial for healthcare facilities, becoming a locum provider can also provide a great opportunity for physicians.

Full Autonomy

Locum tenens physicians are independent, meaning they have full control over which opportunities they wish to take.

As a locum physician, you can work as much or as little as you like, which can go a long way in preventing burnout. You can choose which locations and schedules from currently available opportunities you’d like to take. You can even go so far as to plan your calendar out months in advance or take on lucrative last-minute opportunities. This flexibility can inject new energy into your career.

Extra Income and Experience

Locum tenens doctors have access to a diverse range of healthcare experiences. From rural solo practices to large hospitals, the ability to work in several different types of facilities can provide much-needed insights into the long-term direction you want your own career to take. And, of course, you’ll be able to earn extra income along the way. In fact, many full-time doctors use locum tenens work to supplement their full-time position income.

Travel Opportunities

Locum tenens work is available in all 50 states. The ability to go to new places and meet new people can provide learning and growth opportunities you might not receive otherwise. This can be a great way to explore the country — and even the world — and get paid to do it.

Creating Win-Wins With Locum Tenens

While working in the staffing recruitment industry has its pros and cons, the success of locum providers shows that such services can create true win-wins for healthcare facilities and doctors alike.