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Getting the story straight: A preface to locum tenens

Why doctors do locum tenens

Assignments are available for physicians in every specialty. Good pay, flexible schedules, minimal administration, and the chance to help underserved patients are all common motivations. Hear what doctors have to say about these reasons (and others).


financial rewards

great compensation

the bottom line


Dr. Tammy Allen

"For me, it's been very good financially. I've done a lot of research over the years and I have learned things…how to get tax benefits and breaks. Locums pays very well. I think about my friends who are not doing locums. I probably do make more than they do just because they pay so much in taxes."

—Dr. Tammy Allen Hospitalist
Dr. Val Jones

"If you don't mind travel and are fairly adaptable, you can expect to make at least 33 percent more in salary working as a locum (with professional liability insurance, housing and travel included). In addition, you have no administrative or teaching responsibilities, coding & billing hassles, or staff management issues. You're paid an hourly rate for a minimum number of hours, with overtime negotiable. You get to see different parts of the country, and can control where you go and how much you work."

—Dr. Val JonesPhysiatrist
Dr. John Thieszen

"I made more money in my first year doing locums just one or two weekends a month than I made in my entire salary for the year. It worked out so well that, even though my other jobs have changed, working locum tenens part-time has remained a constant."

—Dr. John ThieszenHospitalist

Work : Life Balance

balancing priorities

avoid burnout

focused dedication

work flexibility

Dr. Wendy Ballenger

"The flexibility has been amazing because if you want to just do three-month assignments and then take a month off, you can. You don’t have to have anyone cover your shift or anything like that. There’s no pre-planning that you have to do so that’s great. My very first assignment I had to take my medicine boards and my pediatric boards and I was able to study for both and have enough time to do so."

—Dr. Wendy BallengerInternist & Pediatrician
Dr. Tina Passalaris

"With locums I leave anywhere from one to six weeks at a time, and I dedicate my life 100% to my job during the weeks that I’m away from my family. It doesn’t matter if I have to work overtime, weekends, evenings. It’s 100% full dedication to my job. When I’m home I’m 100% a mom. I actually go to my children’s plays and recitals. I didn’t know who their friends and teachers were when I worked full-time. I couldn’t, it was impossible."

—Dr. Tina PassalarisOncologist
Dr. Noel Lumpkin

"Well, first and foremost locum tenens has allowed me to remain sane. I think I would have probably burned out from medicine by now if I had not chosen locum tenens. It allows me to have a work life balance, and that is something that is touted more than ever in medicine and rightfully so. Medicine is changing so fast and it’s very hard to keep up with the pace and with locum tenens I can go somewhere and work for a while and even if it’s a difficult job I can know, 'I’m just here for two weeks. I’m just here for three weeks.' You can put up with that for any length of time."

—Dr. Noel LumpkinAnesthesiologist

Life/Career Transitions

transition to retirement

after residency

new settings

starting a new practice

Dr. Michael Higginbotham

"Locums are ideal for people like myself who want to be a part-time physician. When you're done with being on call, you're older and less physically resilient and you just can't take it anymore and you don't want to take it anymore. There's a period when you want to do part-time work. You actually want to be working part time and then getting to enjoy yourself part time."

—Dr. Michael HigginbothamCardiologist
Dr. Wendy Ballenger

"Locum tenens is great after residency because it's a good way to go and explore a job before you decide if you want to take it. In the residency I was in, while it taught me a lot of wonderful things, I did not learn how to properly interview a place before I went. I didn't learn how to really look at contracts in a smart way and (locums) allows me to go and actually work at a place for three months. It's a prolonged interview. I can see how they treat their other staff. I can see if I fit in with them. It's a wonderful way to go in and see."

—Dr. Wendy Ballenger Internist & Pediatrician
Dr. Brian Harmych

"Doing locum tenens work allows me to work around my somewhat inflexible schedule in setting up my new practice. And from a financial standpoint, locums is an excellent opportunity. Primarily because of the flexibility, I can arrange my locums assignments around important business meetings and things that I have to be in Cleveland for to be physically present for my build out of my practice."

—Dr. Brian HarmychFacial Plastic Surgeon

Patient Care

focus on patients

leaving a legacy

strong bonds

what matters most

Dr. Norman Baron

"I feel I leave a wonderful legacy with every patient encounter I have, especially when they wouldn't have been able to get that quality of care otherwise. That really is gratifying."

—Dr. Norman BaronInternal Medicine
Dr. Margaret King

"All I have to do is focus on the patients and try to practice the best clinical medicine that I possibly can," Dr. King says. "I don’t have to do any type of business, I don’t have to get involved in office politics, I don’t have to give any lectures. I just do the things I was trained to do and take care of patients."

—Dr. Margaret KingNephrologist

Two of the most potent
words in medicine

Locum tenenssimply means “to take the place of someone temporarily.” In healthcare, it refers to physicians who fill in for other doctors for a variety of reasons.

A few revealing facts:

More than 40,000 physicians work locum tenens assignments

More than 40,000 physicians work locum tenens assignments annually

Locum tenens physicians work in all 50 states

Locum tenens physicians work in all 50 states

90% of healthcare facilities use locum tenens physicians every year That's a lot of locum tenens physicians placed

Over 90% of US healthcare facilities use locum tenens physicians every year

90% of locum tenens physicians have worked or are working in a permanent position

90% of locum tenens physicians have worked in a permanent position

80% of locum tenens physicans say it's more rewarding than a permanent position

Close to 80% of them say locum tenens is as (or more) rewarding than a permanent position

68% of physicians ages 50+ plan to work locum tenens after retirement

58% of physicians ages 55+ plan to work locum tenens after retirement

20% of residents are working locum tenens right out of training

In recent years as many as 21% of residents chose to work locum tenens right out of training

Sources: 2017 Survey of Physician Staffing Trends, Staff Care Inc, 2017 Locum Tenens Awareness and Perception Survey, CHG Healthcare Services

Why hospitals choose locum tenens

All types of facilities use locum tenens doctors to relieve physician burnout, maintain patient satisfaction, and stay fully staffed during busy times, or while searching for a permanent doctor. Hear what administrators say about these reasons.

physician turnover
patient care
filling staffing gaps

A brief history of a growing industry

Locum tenens has played an important role in the evolution of healthcare. Scroll through the timeline to see some of the people and events that made an impact.

Traveling doctors find getting to patients can be as difficult


Traveling doctors, often heroes on the frontier, find getting to patients can be as difficult as treating them.


During the Civil War, military doctors assigned to a fort also travel to nearby communities.


The first clinical use of X-rays takes place in England. Mobile X-ray units and their technicians save the lives of many soldiers in World War I.


Funding ($40,000) allocated exclusively for Native American health is passed for the first time. This includes money to send traveling physicians to Tribes.


Two US Treasury agencies open and operate hospitals for the nearly 200,000 wounded veterans returning from World War I.


A group of young doctors travel to Biafra to help victims of war. The group organizes as Doctors without Borders (MSF) three years later.


Therus Kolff and Alan Kronhaus receive funding for a project aimed at recruiting locum tenens physicians to relieve full-time doctors in rural areas of the US.


Building on Kolff’s successful model, Comprehensive Health Systems, Inc., becomes the first national locum tenens staffing agency.


Actress Jane Seymour plays Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in the popular television series about a frontier doctor.


The National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations® (NALTO) is established to create and enforce strong industry standards and practices, stressing honesty, objectivity, integrity, and competency.


The US Department of Defense awards contracts totaling nearly $50 million to pay for locum tenens physician services through January 2017.


Fortune magazine places a locum tenens staffing agency in the top 3 of its 100 Best Companies to Work For.


The number of US locum tenens physicians reaches 40,000.


The Veterans Administration places locum tenens physicians in 1,400 medical facilities serving 25 million veterans in the 50 states and US territories.


Indian Health Service makes healthcare available to nearly 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in 160 facilities. Locum tenens physicians are an integral part of the program.

How thick will the plot get?

Locum tenens physicians will help solve the challenges facing hospitals and their patients for decades to come.

A growing patient-to-physician gap

A growing
patient-to-physician gap

There’s a shortage of doctors in America at the same time there’s a growing demand for them. Locum tenens physicians will fill in where they’re needed most.

U.S. Census Bureau; IHS Inc., “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013 to 2025,” Association of American Medical Colleges, 2015.

Unequal access to healthcare

Locum tenens helps more people see a doctor and receive healthcare—offsetting the physician shortage—especially in underserved areas.

Rural Communities

Locum tenens physicians visit patients in remote locations and rural farm communities whose access to doctors would otherwise be infrequent at best.

Urban Areas

Locum tenens doctors deliver highly valued services in community health centers, health professional shortage areas (HPSAs), low-income districts, and other urban locations in need.


Locum tenens physicians in Veterans Administration hospitals and Department of Defense facilities provide ongoing medical care for service members, veterans, and their families.

Indian Health

Locum tenens physicians work with Indian Health Service and tribal healthcare facilities to fill temporary staffing needs quickly in places such as Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, and Montana.

Healthcare is reforming

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has added 30 million patients to the roster. Fortunately, at least 10 percent of facilities plan to add more locum tenens physicians to the number they already use.

Source: 2015 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends

The next chapter

Professional partners

If you're a physician and would like to learn more about the types of assignments available and how to apply for them, these sites are a good place to start.


Weatherby Healthcare

Global Medical Staffing


Dig a little deeper

If you’d like to learn more about the details of locum tenens vicariously, there’s a polite, well-timed locumstory newsletter you can sign up for here.



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