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What is a Locum Doctor?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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A locum doctor or locum tenens doctor is a physician holding a temporary job at a medical facility or medical office. The term locum tenens is Latin and roughly translates as stand-in or substitute. These doctors can also be called freelance doctors since they work when and if they want at locations of their choice, rather than having a job with a specific hospital, facility or doctor practice.

Statistics are varied on how many physicians are locum tenens, but in most hospitals, as many as 50-80% may work there on a temporary basis. Most locum doctor jobs are contracted through agencies, and many of these doctors, in fact the majority of them, obtain their substitute work through an agency. There are numerous agencies designed to place doctors in various positions, and they may offer fairly good salaries and payment of any malpractice insurance needed, which can cut costs. Some agencies also help a locum doctor find a place to live in the area where she fills a temporary position. There are jobs available for general practitioners and specialists.

Some doctors choose to become locum doctors after completion of medical school and board certification. Working temporary jobs can give the physician an opportunity to travel. However, if these jobs are located outside of the country in which the doctor trained, he might need additional training. Once in an area the physician really enjoys, he could look for a permanent position instead.

Sometimes small medical practices employ locum doctors to fill in on hours when the practice will still see patients but isn’t usually open for business. Alternately, one physician may act as locum tenens for another if a physician with a small practice wants to take a vacation or needs to leave the practice for a few days or weeks. Employing a locum doctor, or having a locum arrangement with another physician means that patients who need medical help during this time will not have to look elsewhere for another doctor.

While having a locum doctor in place to handle emergency needs when a person’s regular doctor is not available is advantageous, some complain of a few problems that may be encountered if they have to work with locum physicians regularly. First, there is little continuity of care because it’s unlikely people will see the locum doctor more than once. Hospital billing may be separated and this can cause an insurance problem that sometimes requires a battle with an insurance company because the locum doctor is usually not contracted with any insurance company.

One of the ways to address this issue of making sure locum doctors have all information needed would be to institute a electronic record keeping method. Thus far, though there are some programs available, hospitals and doctor’s offices haven’t made an across the board decision on using just one of them. Therefore when a locum doctor treats any patient, he must rely on the patient’s information and may have no or little access to previous medical records. This is not always the best scenario for superior patient care, even when a locum tenens physician is highly skilled.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Lisamark — On Jul 09, 2013

Excellent addition. I am further impressed with the design of this site. The link to the contact details via the iPhone is brilliant as I regularly go on a visit in a new practice and don't have the contact details for the practice with me!

By Locumdays — On Aug 25, 2010

Being a locum physician is a great way to experience different scenery in your work life and living in different locations. Working locums can be great exposure. There are great resources out there that will help you manage your current locum assignment and help you negotiate your next.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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