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What is Locum Tenens: A Look at Temp Physicians

You may have heard the term before, and you may have a general idea, but we’re here to answer: What is a locum tenens provider?


What is a locum tenens physician?


Simply put, locum tenens physicians are (typically) short-term, temporary physicians that partner with locum tenens staffing companies in order to fill vacancies at hospitals and medical centers around the country. 


In Latin, the term “locum tenen” literally translates to place holder. (According to Google translate.)


Working locum tenens is not that old of a concept in the medical world, gaining more popularity as technology rises and allows for easier communication, management, and much more.


Today, thousands of physicians, psychologists, CRNAs, PAs, and NPs are contracting with locum tenens staffing agencies to practice medicine all over the country, often deciding where and when they work while earning more than they would in a traditional, non-locums position.


When Did Locum Tenens Start?

Locum tenens can still be considered a relatively new practice in the medical world, tracing its beginnings back only to the 1970s.


According to history, we have two men by the names of Therus Kolff and Alan Kronhaus, both MD’s having a part in the HSRI (Health Systems Research Institute). Kolff and Kronhaus are considered to be the “pioneers of the locum tenens world.”


The HSRI’s founding company, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the program with a grant for the project idea of getting physicians from larger cities to visit and work at more rural communities by providing them with incentives and support.


This paved the way for groups of practicing physicians who had the ability and the desire to work short-term assignments in different locations. Kronhaus spear-headed this by creating his own standalone services that allowed physics to do just this. 


This service took off and grew considerably into the nationwide locum tenens market that we have today.


How Locum Tenens Work

To those unfamiliar with the process of locum tenens recruitment and assignment, it may seem overly daunting and confusing, though the process has become streamlined over the decades.


While the actual process will vary slightly from staffing agency to staffing agency, the main process has only a few steps:


  • Step 1: Decide that you’d like to learn more about locum tenens work
  • Step 2: Reach out to a staffing organization (or a few!) to explain what you’re looking for and to get a feel for what is needed and expected from you
  • Step 3: If you’d like to proceed with providing locum tenens work, select a staffing agency
  • Step 4: Contact the agency, work through the onboarding process with them, and work with your specific recruiter to get placed at your first assignment


But, there are still some other questions that need to be answered, such as:


How does a locum tenen physician…

  • Get paid?
  • Handle insurance and liability?
  • Handle travel costs?


These are just some of the many questions you may have, but we will try to answer what we can here for you now.


How Locum Tenen Physicians are Paid

There is no set pay rate, as each physician has different skill sets, and the areas you will be assigned to will pay differently based on their needs at the time. Depending on the travel, or conditions you are willing to work in the pay will generally be higher.


You can use this website to look at salary trends for different positions for locum tenens. Here is an example of what you emergency medicine salary using the tool:


Emergency Medicine Locum Tenens Information Infographic



How Is Insurance and Liability Handled with Locum Tenens

The agency will have a malpractice policy in place for physicians on assignment. Be sure to communicate this with whoever you choose as your locum tenen provider, as this can differ from agency to agency.


Who is Responsible for Travel Costs?

The agency is responsible for all of the travel and housing costs. The agency will handle all flights, rental cars, hotels, or other accommodations as needed. Depending on the length of the assignment, you may be put up in a hotel near the hospital, or an apartment close-by if the assignment is longer.


Why Physicians Choose to Work Locum Tenen Jobs

Many physicians will work locum tenens as a side job in order to gain extra income. This is due mainly to the fact that you can get locum assignments that are short in length, with some assignments ranging from just a few shifts to a few days.


Here are a few other pros that you can take into consideration and see why others work locum tenen jobs:


  • Extra income
  • Set your own schedule
  • Travel
  • Try different jobs
  • Help people in need 
  • More experience in your desired field


The extra income is potentially the most impactful decision in choosing a locum tenens placement. The salary increase alone can be upwards of over 40% more than just working at a hospital or medicine group full time.


Locum Tenens Frequently Asked Questions


Can I Work Locum Tenens As a Full-Time Physician?

Yes. While many physicians will work a locum tenen placement as a side job, to travel around the country while still practicing medicine, or to stay busy during retirement, you can absolutely work full-time as a locum-tenen physician.


Why Do Healthcare Clients Use Locum Tenens Physician Staffing?

Using an agency can help ensure the prevention of lost revenue. It can be difficult balancing the workload of fill-ins and traveling physicians. That’s where locum tenens staffing agencies come in, to handle the heavy lifting and take care of things for you to make sure everything can run as efficiently and cost-effective as possible.


How Do I Get Started With a Locum Tenen Job?

If you think you may be interested in pursuing locum tenens work as a career or even for one assignment, you’ll need to spend a bit of time researching locums staffing agencies that meet your needs: do you need help without of state credentialing? Covering the cost of travel? Covering your insurance?

Once you’ve narrowed your list down to a few agencies, reach out to recruiters at each agency and determine which will be the best fit for you (you may need to try a few before you find one that fits you best!).

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