The Pros and Cons of Locum Tenens Work

Dante Antonini

Locum Tenens, is just the fancy Latin way of saying temporary work.  To the doctor that just finished residency and wants to work in Hawaii for a month or for the practicing doctor looking for  work/life balance, Locum Tenens certainly sounds like a fancy option.  In fact, there isn’t a doctor I have interacted with who hasn’t thought to themselves “Is the grass greener over there?”   

Before you jump on the Locums bus, read about the pros and cons first. 

Benefits and Drawback of Locum Tenens

  • PRO: Choosing to work as a locums gives you a whole lot of freedom, the kind of  freedom that can only be gained through extended holiday or retirement. The freedom to travel and work as much or little as you like. You can take months off at a time, or simply explore the country in an RV, hopping from job to job.
  • CON:  Freedom isn’t free.  Temporary employers usually retain the right to cancel a job on short notice.  Additionally, a long-time assignment can be cut short because the hospital finds a full-time replacement.
  • PRO: Unlike positions with partnership tracks, locum tenens positions pay well from day one.  These roles are highly compensated even after the eight-hour day is over, increasing your earning potential. Call coverage can generate additional income, possibly earning close to double what your full-time colleagues make. 
  • CON: Benefits may be a do-it-yourself option. This includes researching and leveraging your own health insurance plan. With that said, many staffing agencies offer benefits for locum tenens workers. If you’re pursuing locum tenens, we advise setting up a solo 401(k) to maximize your earning potential while reducing your tax burden. However, don’t anticipate an employee option. 
  • PRO: Locum tenens doctors can avoid much of the office politics found in the typical hospital or clinic. Meetings and conflict between power centric doctors are eliminated when you are locum tenens. If going in and getting the job done is appealing, this is the kind of job you would enjoy. Your job is to practice medicine and leave the hassles and politics of administration to the full-timers.
  • CON: You may experience the politics of being an outsider. If you’re used to carrying some authority in your practice, the locum tenens role may take some getting used to. Your input may not be solicited on important matters. You’ll also need to still adapt to the culture you’re in, even if you’re not really a player in it. It might be a bit harder to make friends and meet new colleagues, as well.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says these locums arrangements are growing in popularity. Physicians Practice reports as many as 50,000 doctors, or more than 5% of the physician workforce, practice as Locum Tenens in more than 90% of our nation’s healthcare facilities.