Locum tenens may sound like a funky Latin word, but you’d be surprised what it can mean for your career in medicine. Take a look at these commonly asked questions and you might learn a thing or two from medical professionals like yourself.
What exactly is locum tenens?
What is locum tenens?
In case you don’t speak Latin, locum tenens
means “to hold the place of.” The story of locums began in 1979 as a way to provide physician coverage for facilities supporting underserved populations.
Locums has remained true to its roots, but has become a way of life for physicians, NPs, and PAs who work locums for diverse reasons: finding the perfect work/life balance
, a way to make extra money
, explore the country and the world, learn new skills, have more autonomy, and as a transition into retirement
– and even to rediscover a new love of medicine.
Which specialties are in demand for locum tenens?
Typically, all primary care specialties are consistently in demand. Additionally, shift-work specialties like emergency medicine and hospitalists have seen an uptick in need. Psychiatrists, OB/GYNs, and surgeons are also regularly in demand. Check out our specialty tool
to see how in demand your specialty is and our recent 2022 locum tenens pay trends: Who's up and who's down
Do I have a choice of where to go?
Absolutely. Locum tenens gives you complete control over your career. You choose where you go, when you go, and for how long you go. But the more open you are to a range of locations, the more opportunities you’ll have, and the more money you can make. When presented with an assignment, you always have the option of turning it down. You’ll be able to find assignments in a multitude of facility types, in both rural and large metropolitan settings. You can make the world your oyster by working locum tenens.
What do locum tenens assignments look like?
Depends on what you do, and what you’re looking for. Locums assignments can be as short as a weekend or as long as several years. Our specialty tool
lists average assignment length and typical schedule by specialty.
Can locum tenens help me focus on doing humanitarian work?
You bet. A lot of physicians use locum tenens to create a flexible lifestyle, to do more medical mission work, and to generate extra income to fund trips. Many private-practice physicians also use locums to provide coverage during their absence while they go on humanitarian trips.
Read the stories of locum tenens physicians who have used locums to do mission work:
Will locum tenens work for me?
How do I know if locum tenens is right for me?
There are many reasons doctors choose to work locum tenens: extra money, a better work/life balance, paying down student loans – or even travel the world. And if you’re not sure you’re ready to take the leap, you can take our quiz
. The answer might surprise you! Or, as Dr. Thomas O’Mara suggests: just try it
. The good news? If you don’t like it, just don’t take another assignment.
Can I work locum tenens while still in residency or pursuing a fellowship?
For almost 20 percent of physicians coming out of residency or fellowship, locum tenens is a great opportunity. For some specialties, it can be a way to supplement your income in the final six months of training, but be sure to check with your program to see if they allow it.
Rest assured, others have been there before. Here’s Dr. Johnny Shen
’s story about how he practiced locums right out of residency.
Can I work locum tenens after I’ve retired?
Retired, about to retire, or not-so-retired, there’s never a wrong time to practice locums. Many providers use locums as a way to transition into retirement, and many practice locums during retirement as a way to travel, supplement income, and continue practicing medicine. If you think you’d like to work after retirement, be sure to keep an active state license, and make sure there’s no more than a two-year gap between practicing and retirement. After two years from retirement, agencies will have difficulty finding a position because they might not be able to credential you due to malpractice carrier guidelines. Similarly, if you’re short on minimal numbers for procedures, you won’t be approved to perform those procedures. Dr. William Meyer knows a thing or two about locums and retirement, check out his story here
Can I work locum tenens close to home?
More of a homebody? No problem. Many physicians find locum tenens opportunities within driving distance of their homes. Of course, the more open you are to travel, the more jobs you’ll find, but doctors like Dr. Kayhani
make working locums locally work just fine.
Can I work locum tenens on the side and keep my full-time job?
Yes and yes. Almost half of locums physicians only work part time. In fact, it’s the most popular reason why physicians choose to work locum tenens. It’s a fast and easy way to earn extra cash to pay off student loans and other debt, or to put toward your savings and other financial goals. Working even one weekend a month or one week a quarter adds up quickly when your daily pay rate averages $800 - $2,500 per day, depending on your specialty.
Can I work locums as a full-time career and can I find enough assignments to stay busy?
Believe it or not, it’s easier than you think. About one-third of locums physicians work locum tenens full time. If you’re going this route, do yourself a favor and find an agency that can find enough opportunities for you in your specialty so you can maintain a steady stream of assignments. To make things easier on you, check out our agency selector tool
that provides a list of the top-rated agencies we trust.
Can I work locum tenens if I have a family?
By all means, yes. With so many locums opportunities, including local and shorter assignments, there’s usually something that will match your, and your family’s lifestyle. Many physicians choose to take their family with them on assignment, especially on longer-term assignments overseas
. And when you get home, you can enjoy being 100 percent focused on your family with no patient follow ups or other obligations.
Can I bring my pet?
Just about anything is possible, including pets. Dr. Michael Higginbotham even takes a trailer full of West Highland Terriers
on assignments. However, any animal lover knows pets require certain accommodations which can complicate housing and travel. But don’t let that stop you, many agencies are happy to accommodate you and your furry friends.
Can I do locum tenens overseas?
There are lots of opportunities around the world in places like New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and the Middle East. There are also international opportunities at U.S. government facilities and with U.S.-based companies that have facilities overseas.
What's involved in being a locum tenens?
How does locum tenens compensation work?
Enough chit-chat. Let’s talk money. Locum tenens jobs pay over $32 per hour more on average than permanent positions but vary by specialty. Pay is also influenced by factors such as location, demand, patient load, skill requirements, etc. Compensation is certainly a factor you can vet locum positions by. Stop by our blog for more information on compensation
How do benefits and insurance work?
Most agencies hire locum tenens physicians as 1099 independent contractors, which means healthcare and other benefits aren’t included. Some agencies hire PA and NP locum tenens as W-2 employees, which means healthcare and other benefits are provided.
How do taxes work for locum tenens providers?
Since locum tenens physicians typically are 1099 independent contractors, finding a reputable accountant for guidance is a good place to start; some locums physicians have also chosen to set up a business entity for certain tax advantages, such as an LLC or S Corp. Other things to keep in mind are savings plans, 401(k)s, and IRAs. For a more detailed explanation, visit our blog post
on taxes for locums physicians.
How does housing and travel work?
Sit back and relax. Most agencies arrange and pay for the cost of your airfare, rental car, and hotel during an assignment. For longer assignments you can often get an extended stay hotel or rent an apartment or Airbnb. Bonus: you get to keep the airline miles and hotel points. Here’s how Dr. Patel makes locum tenens housing feel like home
How do I find a locum tenens job?
You can search on your own by checking out job boards such as DocCafe
, and PracticeLink
, but we recommend you connect with a reputable agency
that can guide you along the way. They usually have the inside scoop and access to highly desirable, unposted jobs, and they take care of all the logistics.
Does locum tenens attract poor-quality physicians and those who can’t find permanent jobs?
Definitely not. On the contrary; locums physicians have to be carefully screened and vetted. A recent Harvard study
found that there is no significant difference in 30-day mortality rates in patients treated by locums physicians. In fact, locums are often aggressively recruited for permanent positions because of their skilled and compassionate care giving.
How will I be treated by colleagues and administrators while on assignment?
Chances are, if you’re on a locums assignment, you’re filling an important need at the facility. So you’re kind of like a hero, just without the cape (and spandex, please). According to a recent survey
on temporary physician staffing trends, only 1 percent of physicians didn’t feel accepted by colleagues, and 98 percent felt administrators treated them as just another member of the team. If you’re interested in an assignment in Vegas, you should know those are some pretty good odds.
I'm interested, where do I start?
Should I use an agency or work locum tenens on my own?
Be sure to use a reputable, established agency that’s part of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO) which creates and enforces strong industry standards for locums agencies and providers.
Want to learn how locums agencies stack up against each other? Check out our agency tool
to compare number of jobs, malpractice insurance, and compensation to help make your decision.
How do I choose a locum tenens agency?
Before working your first locum tenens assignment through an agency, you will typically need the following:
- Completed agency application and supplemental required forms (e.g. background check release, physical exam, immunization record)
- Signed agency agreement
- License to practice in the state or country of the assignment
- Up-to-date curriculum vitae (CV)
- 3-5 references from peers who have worked with you in a clinical setting within the past 24 months, usually in the same specialty, and who have first-hand knowledge of your clinical experience
You will also need to complete the agency credentialing process along with the hiring facility’s credentialing and/or privileging processes (if applicable). Most agencies will assist you in completing the paperwork as much as possible.
How many agencies should I work with?
Working with too many agencies creates additional paperwork and complexity and makes it difficult to develop close working relationships. One-third of locums physicians opt to build a relationship with a single agency to work exclusively with, and most locums physicians choose to work with fewer than three.
Do I have to sign a contract to work locum tenens?
What paperwork is required to work locum tenens?
The first step to landing any job is getting all your paperwork in order. Keep in mind that you’ll need things like school information, residency and fellowship details, a copy of your licenses (think states and dates), a list of certifications, and references. While paperwork is never fun, we’ve made it easy with everything you need to get started
What do locum tenens agencies take care of?
A good agency is like a good travel agent, everything should be arranged for you. Of course, medical assignments are a bit more complicated than cocktails on the beach. A good agency takes care of everything from licensing, credentialing, privileging, malpractice coverage, travel, housing, and then some.
What don’t locums agencies take care of?
Agencies cover travel costs but don’t pay for food or other incidentals. Agencies also don’t cover medical, life, and disability insurance or retirement plans, or taking taxes out of paychecks.
What about locum tenens for NPs & PAs?
How much more does locum tenens pay?
It varies depending on specialty, location, demand, and other factors, but on average locums PA and NP jobs pay $17 more an hour than permanent positions.
Can a PA or NP work locums right after graduation?
Generally, healthcare facilities require PAs and NPs to have a couple years of clinical experience before taking a locums assignment.
Can PAs and NPs work locum tenens overseas?
The PA and NP professions are relatively new overseas, so there generally aren’t locum tenens jobs available outside of the U.S. However, there are sometimes opportunities in U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.
How do benefits and insurance work?
Some agencies hire locum tenens PAs and NPs as W-2 employees which means healthcare and other benefits are provided. Other agencies hire them as 1099 independent contractors which means healthcare and other benefits aren’t included.
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