Per Diem vs. Locum Tenens: What’s the Difference?

by
Hal Levy
April 15, 2020

Not all temporary medical jobs are created equal.

Per diem vs. locum tenens. If these terms sound like Greek to you, it’s close: they’re both Latin.

These jobs seem interchangeable, since many locum contracts will advertise a per diem rate. However, there are actually small and important differences between the two.

Understanding how locums and per diem compare will give you a better understanding of what your next job involves.

What Does Per Diem Mean for Medical Workers?

Per diems aren’t guaranteed hours. That’s because per diem clinicians are employees on an at-will contract. You might see these listed as a flexible, freelance, or 1099 posting.

Per diems can work for 1 hour a week or 40 — they generally don’t have a fixed schedule.

And no matter how many hours per diem clinicians put into any one job, they’re not considered full-time employees.

Employment conditions may change frequently for per diem workers, who are placed into rotation when needed.

As you might imagine, the definition of per diem is per day. Note that other unrelated payments may also be called per diems. Even if you’re not actually employed as a per diem worker, per diem can refer to a set amount you receive for living expenses. And some locum tenens clinicians have per diem tax rules to handle.

What’s the Difference Between Locum Tenens and Per Diem?

Locum tenens positions are a substitute or temporary role for clinicians, typically in a full-time capacity.

Per diem is basically locum tenens without a set schedule. Based on schedules and availability, clinicians working per-diem can decide to pick up any open shifts.

Locum tenens jobs will have a set contract period for a short period of time, with a specific start and end date.

Locum tenens jobs will have a set ending date, but traditionally come with more benefits than per diem work.

Doctors, advanced practitioners, nurses, and pharmacists can find “locums work” at health facilities of all sizes. Locums generally have a set schedule, since they’re taking over for an established position. This type of contract is used to cover absences of weeks to months at a time, like when a worker goes on maternity leave.

Locum tenens, translated from Latin, means placeholder. Locums clinicians are essentially stepping into an existing position for a period of time.

Which is More Common — Locum Tenens or Per Diem?

If you’re willing to travel, you can readily find both types of employment. Whether or not your facility of choice offers locum work or per diem work depends on your speciality and employer. Telehealth providers also tend to advertise both types of contracts.

Per diem is more common than locum work, even if per diem work may go by other names. According to a study by investment bank Harris Williams in 2015, per diem nursing jobs alone account for about $3 billion per year whereas total locum staffing amounts to $2.7 billion per year. Both are projected to keep growing for decades to come.

Generally locums is seen more in rarer, highly-paid specialties. However, locum and per diem work is available to all clinicians. And many are happy with both choices.

Is Locum Tenens Better Than Per Diem Work?

For locum tenens vs. per diem work, the right opportunity for you depends on what you’re looking for.

Both are 1099 positions. People doing per diem usually have a full time job; locum tenens usually is a full time job.

Studies found that locum tenens workers like the mix of predictability and flexibility that switching jobs requires. Per diem workers may have more consistency at one place of employment.

In general, locums have more benefits like insurance taken care of by their employer or hiring agency. There’s a chance that you would have to handle your own malpractice insurance as a per diem, though most facilities will cover it. Both contract types give you the chance to change jobs often.

With DirectShifts, you can search for these positions through our online platform. DirectShifts also connects clinicians to an experienced support team who can place you in opportunities on an ongoing basis.

At DirectShifts, you can choose to work per diem or locum tenens. Once your credentials are accepted, there’s no limit to which shifts you choose to pick up. DirectShifts also provides full malpractice coverage with tail insurance.

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