GUEST POST: Benefits of Working Locum Tenens

Image by Alachua county, distributed under the CC BY 2.0 license.

Image by Alachua county, distributed under the CC BY 2.0 license.

[FPMD: This guest post is provided by Melissa Byington of CompHealth.  We have no financial relationship.  While it will be a while before I start looking for a "real" job, I believe those of you who are further along in training may find this post useful.  Think of Locum Tenens as the adult version of moonlighting.]

Locum Tenens physicians travel across the country to meet the medical needs of rural and underserved communities. While on assignment, these physicians experience new settings, improve their skills and make a very good hourly wage – often higher than they would earn in a permanent position.

Where did locum tenens come from?

The idea of these traveling assignments dates back to the late ‘70s, when two physicians at the University of Utah saw a need for healthcare in rural settings that were unable to attract full-time physicians. One of these physicians, Dr. Therus C. Kolff, went on to found CompHealth - the first locum tenens staffing agency in 1979.

How locum tenens assignments work

Locum tenens assignments can be performed at any career stage. From taking short-term assignments during residency or a fellowship or deciding to work locums as a full-time career. Locum assignments can last just a few days or up to months at a time.

While some physicians contract directly with healthcare facilities to work temporary shifts, the majority of locum jobs are filled by staffing agencies that have access to thousands of jobs in hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country. Locum tenens physicians are independent contractors and usually receive an hourly wage, negotiated in advance, by the staffing agency placing them. Working hours, job expectations and the length of the assignment are also agreed upon by the physician, staffing agency and facility before the assignment begins.

Expenses paid by the staffing agency

In addition to paying the physicians’ wage, a good staffing agency will cover travel and housing expenses and provide a rental car for the physician during the assignment. The agency pays the physician’s malpractice insurance, handles credentialing and help with state licensing. Because they are independent contractors, locum tenens physicians are responsible for their own taxes, health insurance and retirement planning.

Earning money on the side

Locum is a great way to make extra money to pay off student loans, pay for that European vacation or just put a little more away in savings. Though some physicians work locums full-time, the majority do locums in addition to their day job. Temporary assignments can be worked on days off, during vacation, or in-between permanent jobs.  Consider:

  • Dr. Johnny Shen works locums full-time. After he finished residency he wasn’t ready to sign a long-term contract. He was unsure exactly where he wanted to work so he began doing locums assignments. Over time he found that locums supplied him not only the income he needed, but also gave him the scheduling flexibility he wanted. He said: “Most jobs you can’t just say, ‘I’m going to take these two months off and then I’ll come back.’ But with locums, I can.”
  • Dr. John Thieszen works locums in addition to his medical consulting business.  When he was in the Air Force, he found that his job was not meeting his financial needs. He started working locums on the side and in his first year he made more money working locums one or two weekends a month than he did the entire year in his full-time job. Once he got out of the military, and into private practice, he continued to work locums for extra income.

More than money

Locums brings more than just financial benefits. In addition to the extra money, locums assignments are a great way to try out a new facility or work environment. A physician that is used to working in a large metropolitan hospital will be surprised to discover how different life in a rural community clinic might be. New skills learned on assignments can be applied to permanent jobs reinvigorating a career or helping to stave off burnout.

Depending on your specialty, assignments can be as short as a weekend or last six months or more. Assignments are available anywhere around the country or even the world.


Guest author Melissa Byington is president of the locum tenens division of CompHealth, the nation's largest locum tenens physician staffing company and a leader in permanent and temporary allied healthcare staffing. Melissa's career in physician recruiting spans nearly two decades. She also serves as the president of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO).