Physician

What is Locum Tenens?

locum tenens definition - featured image of clinician reading chart

The locum tenens definition is literally translated from Latin as “one holding a place.” In modern healthcare, the term locum tenens provider refers to a physician or advanced practice provider who fills in for another clinician while he or she is unavailable. Today, locum tenens is a flourishing practice alternative that offers countless job opportunities to providers in every field, allowing them to build their career while ensuring care for patients who might otherwise have to go without.

Why do providers chose locum tenens?

Doctors, NPs, and PAs  who adopt the locum tenens lifestyle reap numerous benefits that you don’t often find in a permanent position. Here are some of the benefits we hear about most often from providers working locums:

    • Flexible scheduling. Locum tenens clinicians control their own schedule, owning final say over when, where, and how often they want to work. Read how Dr. Marilyn Berko used this freedom to redefine her work/life balance.
    • Added income. Competitive pay rates, zero overhead, and complimentary malpractice coverage make locum tenens practice financially attractive. Even providers who hold a permanent position often supplement their income via short-term contracts during weekends or vacations.
    • Exploration and adventure. Since locum tenens contracts are available for every specialty in every state, providers use locum tenens as a way to explore the country, or pursue seasonal recreational options. For example, skiers can spend the winter near the slopes and surfers can be near the beach as often as they like.
    • Enhanced skills. Locum tenens providers often experience a variety of different practice settings, which enhances their CV and expands their professional expertise. Treating diverse patient populations keeps them up to date, and working with different colleagues offers a fresh perspective.

Which providers are best suited for locum tenens?

There is no wrong time to turn to locum tenens practice. Healthcare professionals at all career stages can benefit from accepting temporary contracts.

  • New physicians. Locum tenens assignments are ideal for physicians just coming out of residency. Temporary placements let them test-drive different work settings and locations before making a long-term commitment.
  • Established providers. Whether you are transitioning from a previous work environment or looking to explore outside interests, the flexibility afforded by locum tenens practice offers the ability to earn income without incurring administrative headaches, freeing up time and energy for other endeavors.
  • Seasoned docs. Highly skilled, older physicians who want to slow down, but are not ready to retire completely, often use locum tenens to continue doing the work they love at their own pace. And the travel options can be helpful in scouting out potential retirement locations. Read how Dr. David Bybee relied on Weatherby to make a stress-free transition.

How do hospitals benefit from locum tenens?

Physicians, NPs, and PAs who can step in and cover staffing gaps are sought after by every type of healthcare facility, from major metropolitan trauma centers to small rural clinics. Across the country, these facilities depend on qualified locum tenens providers to ensure the availability of quality patient care.

Locum tenens providers offer an immediate and cost-effective solution to staffing shortages, which can arise due to seasonal issues, such as flu season, or catastrophes, like earthquakes and hurricanes. Facilities also rely on temporary providers when a permanent provider is on vacation, ill, or on family leave. And the ongoing physician shortage ensures that hospitals will continue to seek out locum tenens providers.

locum tenens definition - image of busy hospital floor

What do these locum tenens terms mean?

If the thought of providing locum tenens services has piqued your interest, there are a few other industry definitions you may want clarified before getting started:

  1. Locum tenens provider. As mentioned above, a locum tenens provider is defined as a physician or advanced practice provider who fills in for another clinician while he or she is unavailable. When locum tenens providers sign on with reputable staffing companies, such as Weatherby Healthcare, they operate as independent contractors, not employees. The staffing agency typically covers the cost of travel, housing, licensing, and credentialing.
  2. Assignment. Locum tenens jobs are often referred to as assignments. Once you agree to an assignment, you will sign a contract for a specific period of time. If the facility still has a staffing need at the end of the contract, you may be offered an assignment extension.
  3. Match. Finding the right match between a provider and a facility is the most essential part of the process. The best staffing firms will offer you a dedicated consultant who is committed to fully understanding your preferences, priorities, and dislikes, thereby ensuring you are offered only mutually acceptable matches.
  4. Present. When you find a good match, your consultant will present you for the position. That is a vital step in securing an assignment. Once your consultant has presented you for a position, you are protected by an exclusive three-way relationship, between you, your consultant, and the facility.
  5. Moonlighting / Shift Work / Traveling Docs. These are just some of the nicknames people may use to refer to locum tenens providers.

How to get started

This 90-second animation offers a visual introduction to getting started in the locum tenens world. To take the next step, reach out to a reliable staffing firm that will listen to your needs and priorities. You may want to ask for recommendations from colleagues. Good firms offer comprehensive malpractice insurance from a highly rated carrier, credentialing and licensing services, and transportation to your assignments, as well as housing once you arrive.

Related: 13 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Locum Tenens Agency

The best firms will set you up with your own consultant who is an expert in your specialty. He or she will be your single point of contact and offer 24/7 support. Welcome to the wonderful world of locum tenens!

About the author

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Lisa Daggett

Lisa Daggett is well-versed on the topic of locum tenens staffing and was a regular contributor to LocumLife, Healthcare Traveler, and Travel Nurse magazines. She served as associate editor of RN Magazine and as an editorial assistant for Business & Health.

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