Considering Locum Tenens? Freedom, Good Pay, and Some Risks

Neil Chesanow


March 08, 2017

In This Article

What Do Doctors Like About Locum Work?

In addition to compensation, doctors say there's so many things to like about locum work. In fact, CompHealth, a locum placement firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, surveyed over 1000 doctors in 2016 and found that money is a big enticement, but there's a myriad of reasons they opt for temporary assignments.[10,11] The major reasons they mentioned they would work as locum tenens included[10]:

  • Supplementing core income (26%);

  • Temporary employment while searching for a full-time job or between full-time jobs (17%);

  • Temporary employment between residency/fellowship and a full-time job (13%);

  • Ability to control my own schedule (9%);

  • Personal life transition (6%);

  • Appealing salary (6%);

  • Expanding experience through new cases (5%);

  • Bridge to retirement (5%);

  • Trying out a facility or location before taking a full-time position (4%);

  • Desire to see the country or the world (4%);

  • Serving rural and underserved areas (2%);

  • Avoiding monotony or burnout (1%); and

  • Having more time to provide quality care (1%).

Many residents are unsure of which type of practice setting is right for them. Locum tenens doctors like sampling different settings in different parts of the country to find out where they fit in best.

Schedule flexibility and working when and where they want are pluses that locum doctors cite for jumping on the locum tenens bandwagon. As Indresano points out, you can also choose how hard you want to work. Some jobs are a standard 40 hours per week. Others require more work, but because you are usually paid by the hour, you stand to earn more. You may also be able to negotiate your call schedule.

Then there are adventurous doctors who say they want to see the country or the world, including some pretty exotic places. One locum firm recently posted an ad for a 6-month assignment for two family doctors or internists in Antarctica.[12] Residents may have cabin fever after 12 or more years of medical education. Taking a locum assignment is a way for them to catch up on some of what they missed.

Taking a break from the grind of academic work before taking board exams or seeking full-time employment is the driving force for many young doctors to work as a locum tenens. Being able to achieve a good work/life balance is a major appeal of locum work for many doctors.

For a female physician who has taken time off to raise a family, employment as a locum can ease the transition back into the full-time workforce.

Most locums are older doctors. Of the nearly 900 locum doctors who participated in the Staff Care survey, 75% were 51 years of age or older; 10% were 40 or younger.[7] For a doctor in mid-career, when many doctors start to feel burned out—not just from overwork and stress, but also from the monotony of practicing the same type of medicine for years—a locum assignment can mean a chance to learn new skills and perhaps to give his or her medical career a new direction.

Older doctors who are not yet ready to retire but want to work at a less demanding pace than is possible in a full-time position at a clinic, group practice, or hospital say that becoming a locum tenens offered the best of both worlds.

Although being a locum tenens is a temporary job, it often offers the potential for permanent placement. Many doctors use a locum assignment to find a community and workplace culture that's a good fit for them personally and professionally before making a commitment to full-time employment.


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