Understanding Locum Tenens: The Basics Explained

Understanding Locum Tenens: The Basics Explained

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Locum tenens is a Latin phrase meaning “to hold the place of.” The healthcare industry refers to hiring temporary or contract physicians, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare providers to fill in for permanent medical staff. These temporary healthcare professionals are known as “locum tenens clinicians” and provide services in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices. While the concept of locum has been around for centuries, its popularity has increased in recent years due to the growing demand for healthcare services and the shortage of healthcare providers.

History of Locum Tenens

The concept of locum has its roots in ancient Rome, where physicians were often called upon to provide medical services to Roman soldiers in different parts of the empire. During this time, chief physicians would appoint other physicians to fill in for them while attending to the soldiers temporarily. This practice continued throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period.

In the 19th century, tenens were mainly limited to rural areas in the United States, where physicians would travel from town to town to provide medical care in communities without permanent doctors. However, in the late 20th century, they also began to gain popularity in urban areas, as hospitals and clinics faced staffing shortages and needed temporary healthcare providers to fill in for their permanent staff.

History of Locum Tenens

How Locum Tenens Works

Locum clinicians are typically hired by staffing agencies that specialize in providing temporary healthcare staffing solutions to different healthcare facilities. These agencies partner with healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices, to source and place temporary providers according to the facility’s specific needs. Healthcare facilities may use locum clinicians to fill in for permanent staff on leave or vacation or if there is a sudden increase in patient volume.

Hiring a locum clinician is similar to hiring a permanent staff member. The staffing agency will work with the healthcare facility to determine its staffing needs, including the speciality, length of coverage, and credentials required for the position. The agency will then source and screen candidates and present the most qualified providers for the healthcare facility to review. Once a provider is selected, the staffing agency will handle all the logistics, such as travel arrangements, licensing, and credentialing.

Benefits of Locum Tenens

The tenens practice benefits healthcare facilities and clinicians who work as independent contractors. For healthcare facilities, locum tenens provides a cost-effective solution to fill staffing gaps and maintain quality patient care. Short-term staffing needs, such as vacation coverage or temporary leaves, can be quickly fulfilled by hiring a locum clinician without a long-term commitment or investment.

For locum clinicians, the practice offers flexibility, variety, and higher pay than permanent positions. They can choose where and when they want to work, allowing them to travel and experience different healthcare settings and communities. Additionally, locum clinicians are typically paid hourly, often higher than a permanent employee’s salary.

Benefits of Locum Tenens

Common Misconceptions

Despite its growing popularity, there are still some misconceptions about locum. One common misconception is that locum clinicians are less qualified or experienced than permanent staff. This is not true. Tenens clinicians are highly skilled and professional healthcare providers. They are often retired or semi-retired physicians looking for a change of pace or work-life balance or younger clinicians who want to gain experience in different healthcare settings before committing to a permanent position.

Another misconception is that locum clinicians only work in rural or underserved areas. While locum clinicians play a crucial role in ensuring access to healthcare in rural and underserved areas, they also work in urban settings. Many locum tenens clinicians work in major cities, with a high demand for healthcare services and a shortage of providers.


In conclusion, it is a temporary staffing solution that benefits healthcare facilities and providers. With the demand for healthcare services rising and the shortage of healthcare providers, it is becoming more prevalent. By providing flexibility, cost-efficiency, and career growth opportunities, locum tenens transform healthcare delivery. As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, the use of locum tenens is expected to grow, making it an excellent opportunity for healthcare professionals looking for a change of pace or career advancement.


1. What types of healthcare providers can work as locum tenens?

Locum tenens clinicians include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other healthcare professionals such as pharmacists, therapists, and audiologists.

2. Is locum tenens a full-time job?

Locum tenens can be a full-time or part-time job, depending on the availability and preference of the clinician. Some locum tenens providers work on a full-time basis, while others may work on a part-time or occasional basis.

3. Do I need my malpractice insurance as a locum tenens clinician?

No, the staffing agency or the healthcare facility that hires you as a locum tenens provider typically provides malpractice insurance coverage.

4. How long do locum tenens assignments usually last?

The duration of locum tenens assignments varies depending on the staffing needs of the healthcare facility. Assignments can last from a few days to several months.

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