Welcome to the digital pages of an inspiring story called locum tenens. A dramatic industry that’s growing quickly by helping hospitals, physicians, and millions of patients across the country. Like many great stories, it’s true. But unlike most, it’s far from finished. And whether you practice medicine, work with doctors, or just rely on healthcare, there’s a place for you in it.
Locum tenenssimply means “to take the place of someone temporarily.” In healthcare, it refers to physicians who fill in for other doctors for a variety of reasons.
Sources: 2015 Survey of Physician Staffing Trends, Staff Care Inc. 2015 Wakefield Research Survey, CHG Healthcare Services
Assignments are available for physicians in every specialty. Good pay, flexible schedules, minimal administration, and the chance to help underserved patients are all common motivations.
“I can take 10 weeks of vacation in a year or work a lot if I choose to. I have the ability to take my husband with me so we can explore new parts of the country and see new things. It’s just a lot more enjoyable.”—Dr. Beverly RickerPediatrician
“I have the best of both worlds: steady, satisfying work, on my terms of time and intensity, predictable income, and freedom from government/insurance company machinations and hospital political intrigues. The agreement (contract) with the hospital is clear, and short term, and the supply-demand balance for locum tenens doctors in my specialty is currently in my favor. When at home, I have the freedom to not answer the phone, the certainty that the concert or nice restaurant meal or the weekend away won’t be interrupted, and the security that my income checks will be as expected and on time. The conflict between family and profession is now moot.”—Dr. Duane GainsburgNeurosurgeon
“I can tell you that one paycheck of locums work is more than I make in three months of fellowship, and it’s only a weekend. It really pays off.”—Dr. Bassam RimawiOB/GYN
“If you don’t mind travel and are fairly adaptable, you can expect to make at least 33 percent more in salary working as a locum (with professional liability insurance, housing and travel included). In addition, you have no administrative or teaching responsibilities, coding/billing hassles, or staff management issues. You’re paid an hourly rate for a minimum number of hours, with overtime negotiable. You get to see different parts of the country, and can control where you go and how much you work.”—Dr. Val JonesPhysiatrist
“I made more money in my first year doing locums just one or two weekends a month than I made in my entire salary for the year. It worked out so well that, even though my other jobs have changed, working locum tenens part-time has remained a constant.”—Dr. John ThieszenHospitalist
“I’ve met several great mentors throughout the process. The permanent partners at the practices I’ve worked at have been helpful, and I’ve gained valuable insights into the way different practices run.”—Dr. Brian HarmychFacial Plastic Surgeon
“I feel I leave a wonderful legacy with every patient encounter I have, especially when they wouldn’t have been able to get that quality of care otherwise. That really is gratifying.”—Dr. Norman BaronInternal Medicine
All types of facilities use locum tenens doctors to relieve physician burnout, maintain patient satisfaction, and stay fully staffed during busy times, or while searching for a permanent doctor. Hear what administrators say about these reasons.
Locum tenens assignments let physicians choose when and how long they want to work. Eighty percent find their assignments through a locum tenens staffing agency. Here’s how a typical assignment happens:
Locum tenens has played an important role in the evolution of healthcare. Scroll through the timeline to see some of the people and events that made an impact.
Traveling doctors, often heroes on the frontier, find getting to patients can be as difficult as treating them.
During the Civil War, military doctors assigned to a fort also travel to nearby communities.
The first clinical use of X-rays takes place in England. Mobile X-ray units and their technicians save the lives of many soldiers in World War I.
Funding ($40,000) allocated exclusively for Native American health is passed for the first time. This includes money to send traveling physicians to Tribes.
Two US Treasury agencies open and operate hospitals for the nearly 200,000 wounded veterans returning from World War I.
President Herbert Hoover signs the executive order establishing the Veterans Administration, which includes providing healthcare for
A group of young doctors travel to Biafra to help victims of war. The group organizes as Doctors without Borders (MSF) three years later.
Therus Kolff and Alan Kronhaus receive funding for a project aimed at recruiting locum tenens physicians to relieve full-time doctors in rural areas of the US.
Building on Kolff’s successful model, Comprehensive Health Systems, Inc., becomes the first national locum tenens staffing agency.
Actress Jane Seymour plays Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in the popular television series about a frontier doctor.
The National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations® (NALTO) was established to create and enforce strong industry standards and practices, stressing honesty, objectivity, integrity, and competency.
The Affordable Care Act is signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The US Department of Defense awards contracts totaling nearly $50 million to pay for locum tenens physician services through January 2017.
Fortune magazine places a locum tenens staffing agency in the top 3 of its 100 Best Companies to Work For.
The number of US locum tenens physicians reaches 40,000.
The Veterans Administration places locum tenens physicians in 1,400 medical facilities serving 25 million veterans in the 50 states and US territories.
Indian Health Service makes healthcare available to nearly 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in 160 facilities. Locum tenens physicians are an integral part of the program.
Locum tenens physicians will help solve the challenges facing hospitals and their patients for decades to come.
There’s a shortage of doctors in America at the same time there’s a growing demand for them. Locum tenens physicians will fill in where they’re needed most.
U.S. Census Bureau; IHS Inc., “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013 to 2025,” Association of American Medical Colleges, 2015.
Locum tenens helps more people see a doctor and receive healthcare—offsetting the physician shortage—especially in underserved areas.
Locum tenens physicians visit patients in remote locations and rural farm communities whose access to doctors would otherwise be infrequent at best.
Locum tenens doctors deliver highly valued services in community health centers, health professional shortage areas (HPSAs), low-income districts, and other urban locations in need.
Locum tenens physicians in Veterans Administration hospitals and Department of Defense facilities provide ongoing medical care for service members, veterans, and their families.
Locum tenens physicians work with Indian Health Service and tribal healthcare facilities to fill temporary staffing needs quickly in places such as Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, and Montana.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has added 30 million patients to the roster. Fortunately, at least 10 percent of facilities plan to add more locum tenens physicians to the number they already use.
Source: 2015 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends
If you're a physician and would like to learn more about the types of assignments available and how to apply for them, these sites are a good place to start.
If you have a locum tenens experience to share, please continue the story by adding it to our archives. (It’ll only be shared publicly with your written permission.)
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