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The Brief History & Purpose of Locum Tenens

Since the very beginning, locum tenens has been about two things: people and adventure. Originating in Yellowstone National Park in the 1970s, the temporary placement program began as a way to meet a variety of rural medical needs by recruiting doctors to live briefly in a gorgeous locale.


Eventually, the wildly successful program was adopted nationwide, meeting the needs of both clinicians and medical centers. As locum tenens became a bona fide industry, healthcare professionals recognized the need for established processes and oversight and founded the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO) in 2001. The rest, as they say, is history.



What is Locum Tenens?


Locum tenens is Latin for ‘placeholder.’ Locum tenens physicians serve as a substitute for providers when they are absent.



Why Clinicians Choose Locums


The unique way locums’ opportunities help mitigate ongoing pain points for providers of all ages is what contributes to the continuing success of the locum tenens industry nationwide. Aside from the issues that accompany organizations of varying sizes, the traditional healthcare career path has its inherent set of challenges, including:


  • Whether you’re in a clinic, hospital or other setting, you may find that you’re spending less time serving patients and more time managing the political and infrastructural dynamics of the organization
  • Providers also often face long-term residencies and contracts that require them to be on-call, preventing them from traveling or even just maintaining sustainable work-life balance.
  • Particularly earlier in their careers, clinicians can be stuck working in hospitals or organizations with limited resources that handicap their ability to serve patients. This creates an environment where clinicians are pushed into practices that compromise patient care. 

Limited pathways to move through an organization and excessive administrative work are common issues in larger organizations and can contribute to clinician burnout.


Traditional Healthcare Locum Tenens
Time-consuming administrative work Time is focused on patients
Long-term position commitments Flexibility to explore locations and environments
In many cases, a requirement to be on-call Ability to maintain work-life balance

Addressing the Pain Points


Many clinicians accept these issues as a part of the status quo that comes from working in the healthcare field. For those with a spirit for flexibility and adventure however, locum tenens assignments solve these problems while still offering stability:


  • Since a locum tenens clinician’s time in any given hospital is limited, resource and practice issues don’t turn into ongoing challenges.
  • Administrative work and politics are alleviated since your time in a locum tenens assignment is completely focused on patient care. Clinicians have the freedom not only to focus on the patient, but to travel, take time off, and be in control of their work-life balance. 
  • Clinicians also gain from working in a variety of positions and environments that provide helpful guidance for younger individuals, while preventing burnout for those already established in their careers.


Working With a Locum Tenens Staffing Agency


Fortunately, the process for transitioning into locums’ work is fairly seamless. Locum tenens staffing agencies place individuals in available positions, while providing logistical support for travel, manage administrative tasks, and handle malpractice. All you have to handle is travel preparation – a good staffing agency will take care of the rest.


While locum tenens staffing services manage the details of locums positions, clinicians can do some groundwork to improve outcomes. Clinicians with a sense of what they want to accomplish through locum tenens work will have a basis for deciding what positions to accept and what to reject. Those guidelines, over time, help shape a locums experience that best fits you and your needs. 


You may find that individual positions require certain credentials, in which case your staff agency will establish a relevant credentialing process for that specific need.



Steps to Becoming a Locums Clinician:


  1. Talk to a D&Y recruiter
  2. Fill out an application and gather supporting documents (Don’t worry, we’ll help)
  3. We’ll work with you to find the perfect fit and even arrange travel!
  4. We’ll handle the insurance details
  5. Pursue your passion

At D&Y, we’re with you every step of the way!



Is Locums Right for Residents?


You bet! Locum tenens is a fantastic choice for residents because it provides unparalleled flexibility with the benefit of experiencing medical practices across the country. You’re free to “find your footing” and gain deeper knowledge from some of the best clinicians and healthcare facilities. You get to learn from the best, without being tied down to one location. All of these benefits translate into one very impressive CV.


Note: This blog was originally published on 12/26/2021 and was updated on 8/25/2022.


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