What is Locum Tenens and How Does It Work?

by
Hal Levy
October 14, 2020

For doctors who like to experience new things, there’s nothing more exciting than a locum tenens role. Locum tenens contracts are offered to clinicians who temporarily cover another clinician’s job - patients, responsibilities and all.

Doctors who have signed on to “locums work” typically work a full-time schedule. These substitute roles are generally set up before the sabbatical, vacation or other extended absence of a longtime practitioner.

Locums Definition

Locum tenens, translated from Latin, means placeholder. Locum tenens physicians essentially step into an existing position for a fixed period of time.

Doctors, allied health professionals, nurses, and pharmacists can find “locums work” at health facilities of all sizes. Locums will have a set schedule, since they’re taking over for an established position.

Due to the uncertainty and professionalism required - along with the associated travel and housing stipends - locum tenens roles can be very lucrative for doctors who service this type of contract as a career.

What’s In A Locum Tenens Contract?

Most locums contracts will provide:

  • Comprehensive malpractice insurance for the life of the contract
  • A set term, hours, and pay
  • Health insurance and other retention benefits provided by the hospital, locums agency, or left to you via an increased salary
  • Lockout periods that prevent you from rejoining the same employer for about one year (unless a buyout fee is paid)

1099 or W2? Locums contracts usually designate you as a 1099 independent contractor. While there may be comprehensive benefits or the ability to pay for them, locum tenens providers may not receive the same benefits that a W2 full-time employee would receive.

What Benefits Does A Locum Tenens Receive?

Travel and housing are frequently taken care of for locums, especially those in rural areas. This means you won’t have to pay to get to or live in your worksite area. Mileage reimbursement for daily travel is also not uncommon.

Locum tenens jobs will have a set ending date, but traditionally come with more benefits than per diem work. While per diem contracts can extend indefinitely, they are used for part-time employees or employers with fewer permanent staff positions.

Travel is frequently cited by locums clinicians as a major benefit, allowing them to combine work and discovery.

It’s also a great way to avoid administrative burdens, as a relationship with your locums employer ends at the close of the contract.

Locums clinicians will have a consistent relationship with a staffing company, since they’ll keep finding quality opportunities for you.

Which Specialties Do Locum Tenens?

Since locums contracts require advanced planning and funding, hospitalists are the most common locums fit.

  • ER doctors and trauma surgeons
  • Nurse practitioners, nurses, and CRNAs
  • Specialist doctors like pediatricians and podiatrists
  • Family medicine providers
  • Dentists, psychologists, and other independent providers
  • Allied health professionals, including pharmacists and experienced medical assistants

How Much Do Locum Tenens Make?

Locum tenens staff earn more than their counterparts in non-locums contracts. Experienced DirectShifts recruiters find that employers initially offer 20% more than clinicians would otherwise expect to receive, simply for taking a locums assignment.

This varies greatly depending on your employment situation. A high-demand, short notice position in a remote location could pay double wages, for example.

As of October 2020, the average annual US physician salary listed on ZipRecruiter is $209,000 while the average locums physician salary is $249,000, in line with industry expectations.

Locums Lockout Periods and Buyout Provisions

Lockout periods, in which an employer will agree not to hire the locums clinician directly for around 1 year, are determined by the employer and hiring agency. This is done to protect all parties involved, including the clinician whose temporary absence begat a locums contract.

Employers may bypass lockout periods by paying a fee to the hiring agency at the end of the contract. Alternatively, employers who are open to temp-to-perm placement may specifically ask for rules written into the contract which seamlessly allow this to occur.

Is It Good to Be Locum Tenens?

Locums status is a respected position. Locums have the integrity to assume the full responsibilities of a full-time staff member. It can be a temporary career move, or a lifestyle choice. Locums clinicians still get the chance to work consistently with patients.

Before starting your locums search, think about whether a nomadic locums experience is the right choice for you. Locums must be reliable, flexible, and committed to high quality care.

Obtaining A Locum Tenens Role

Locum tenens contracts are complex and involve rapid negotiation between employers and clinicians. These roles are generally managed by legacy staffing agencies or modern platforms like DirectShifts. 

They’re more common at larger health systems, but even sole practitioners have been known to hire locums help.

You can get begin finding locums work by trying to obtain the attention of a legacy staffing agency. You can also self-service by signing up on DirectShifts and applying to relevant roles without delay.

History of Locum Tenens

The first modern locums contracts were pioneered in rural Utah during the 1970s, subsequently becoming popular across the globe. Even so, the idea of designating a substitute for a clinician on sabbatical has of course been in place throughout modern medicine.

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