Locum Tenens: A Flexible Work Option

After completing your residency, you may want to explore your employment options and travel. If so, locum tenens may be right for you.


What to Consider Before You Sign as a Locum Tenens Physician

What is Locum Tenens? Like travel? Want flexibility? Consider this alternative work schedule.

A locum tenens, or short-term contract, job gives you the power to decide how much, when and where you work. With proper planning, you can create the work-life balance you want and often earn higher compensation than you normally would right out of residency.

In Latin, locum tenens means “in place of.” Historically, this describes a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant who takes on a short-term job to fill in for a physician taking time off for personal reasons.

Today, locum tenens can be an attractive career option for the right person. If you like to travel and experience new work environments, you might enjoy working a series of short-term assignments. Many health systems also use locum tenens for long-term temporary positions. A months-long post gives you a chance to test the waters and try out different locations and work settings.

“A locum tenens option works best when you know what your end goal is upfront,” says Nick Ball, Supervisor for Locum Tenens Administration at Provider Solutions & Development. “Know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re looking for – whether that’s a traveling lifestyle or an eventual permanent assignment.”

Is the Road Warrior Lifestyle Right for You?

The successful locum tenens provider likes to travel. The arrangement also works well for some doctors and nurses close to retirement who want to work a more flexible schedule.

This lifestyle may be a great fit if you:

Embrace flexibility

  • Enjoy travel and are OK with being away from “home”
  • Possess a go-getter personality
  • Seek competitive pay and financial freedom
  • Shine as the primary provider on shift
  • Thrive on independence

"If you are comfortable with autonomy and working independently, then locum tenens can really work for you," Nick says. "It's a great way to try out different types of practices and locations, without the long-term commitment."

How the Locum Tenens Pay Structure Differs

Taking on locum tenens assignments means you work as a contractor. You typically don’t get benefits like vacation time or sick leave, but you do earn financial freedom and lots of flexibility.

Taking locum tenens assignments means you must take steps to ensure you set aside funds to pay for your:

  • Federal and state taxes
  • Licensing fees
  • Personal medical insurance
  • Retirement savings

There’s also the chance that a locum position won’t come to fruition. Plan ahead to ensure you are financially prepared.

“We tell providers to plan for a contingency fund, in case an assignment falls through,” Nick says. “Cancellations can sometimes happen at the last minute.”

How you get paid depends on where and how you work.

  • Short-term employment. Hospitals or practices that employ short-term locum tenens providers typically bill under the health insurance panels and Medicare payer credentials of the physician on leave.
  • Long-term employment. Health systems using long-term assignments tend to use your own payer credentials to bill for service.
  • Agency employment. Physicians working through an agency are independent contractors operating under a 1099. Some agencies employ nurse practitioners and physician assistants who fill assignments for clients. For example, in California, locum tenens NPs and PAs must be employed by an agency. In this case, there may be benefits as part of your employment package.

Compensation through a locum tenens contract differs in many ways from traditional physician compensation. Learn about physician compensation in our resource tool "5 Ways to Ensure You’re Getting a Fair Offer," article.

If locum tenens employment sounds like an option you want to explore, the following resources can help you better understand this type of contract job.

We are Your Locum Tenens Resource

At Provider Solutions & Development, we are locum tenens experts, offering you guidance on getting started, working with an agency and understanding the finer points of a contract.

Our locum tenens team aligns with an agency operating model, working with you to match your passion and purpose to the right job.

For more than 20 years, PS&D has been helping residents discover locum tenens opportunities within Providence's network. Reach out to one of our experts today for more information about the locum tenens lifestyle. Connect with an Advisor.


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Provider Solutions & Development offers complimentary resources, including one-on-one career coaching, toolkits, seminars and training.