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Locum Tenens: The Basics for Physicians

Locum tenens is a Latin phrase, meaning “to hold the place of, to substitute for.” In the medical community it’s used to describe a physician who fills a temporary position at a hospital or practice. This is known casually as locuming. Here’s an overview of how it works, who does it, and why it’s important.

How does locuming work?

Health care facilities need to hire short-term help for a variety of reasons: to cover a maternity leave, to fill a gap after retirement, or to cover a vacation or leave of absence. They might require a doctor with a particular specialty to train new staff — or, as is happening more and more across the country, they might simply need to cover a staff shortage while they work to fill the position permanently.

Locum doctors are vital in these situations: they come in, often on short notice, get acclimated quickly, and can see patients who might otherwise have to wait longer or travel farther for treatment. In the end, locuming is all about closing gaps in the healthcare industry and making sure that everyone who needs to see a doctor — no matter where they are, no matter what they need — is able to.

Who can be a locum doctor?

If you have a medical degree and residency training you can take on a locum tenens position.

There are opportunities available in just about every specialty you can imagine.
The traditional idea of a locum doctor is someone in their first years of practice, or else someone approaching retirement who wants to keep practising but is looking for a different experience before they hang up their stethoscope. Both types of locums exist, but they aren't the whole picture. There is a great deal of diversity in the kinds and backgrounds of people who choose to do it, and in their reasons — some may choose to travel for personal enjoyment or family enrichment, but it can also be a great way for a physician to practice steadily while accommodating their partner's education or career, or to spend some time closer to aging family members. It has even become, for many physicians (both young and old), a career in itself.

Just as the gig economy is changing the way other industries operate, the world of medicine — and those who work within it — is beginning to adapt. Locum doctors are highly coveted, highly respected assets for every medical employer.

Why is locuming important?

Locum tenens staffing offers vital freedom and flexibility to practices, hospitals and other healthcare institutions. The idea of locum tenens was born from an initiative to address doctor shortages in rural areas of the western United States. The program proved so successful that it was eventually adopted across the country — and then across North America and beyond.

Should you become a locum doctor?

Deciding whether to locum is very personal. While it brings some uncertainty into your life, and probably isn’t ideal for someone who is looking to settle down or start a family after the whirlwind years of med school and residency, it’s a great way to test-drive a practice or work environment before committing to a permanent position. It can also give you an opportunity to travel across the country and experience different places, people and communities.

Many doctors also appreciate how much it reduces the administrative side of their jobs: no hiring, no firing, no ordering supplies, no overwhelming operations tasks, etc. For physicians who want to focus on medicine, and are willing to take the risk, locuming can make for an amazing few years — and possibly even a lifelong career.

In exchange for some uncertainty, locuming can offer you great personal opportunities — and the same tradeoff is true of your finances. Thinking it might be for you? Here are some things to keep in mind as you make your plans.

The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.