They say a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.

But no matter how far modern medicine evolves, people get sick. Accidents happen. Emergencies arise. And we need specialized medical professionals to diagnose, treat and manage all of the above.

While the demand for physicians remains high, the number of qualified physicians has begun to fall behind in recent years. As such, the option of locum tenens work becomes more viable. Healthcare employers are increasingly turning to locum tenens practitioners to fill the gaps on their teams.

For some, it may be the perfect fit. For other, not so much. In this article, we examine the pros and cons of life as a locum tenens physician to help you determine where you stand.

What is a locum tenens physician?

A locum tenens physician is the medical field's fancy way of saying "freelancer".

Locum tenens means "to hold the place of, to substitute for" in Latin.

A physician who pursues locum tenens work may fill in for a regular physician who is absent, or temporarily join a hospital or practice that is short-staffed.

Working locum tenens allows physicians to experience different facilities in various locations without making a full-time commitment. This opens doors to unique opportunities to provide healthcare to diverse places.

To be clear, locum tenens physicians are still bound by strict regulatory bodies just like their full-time peers.

Why more physicians are choosing locum tenens

What exactly explains the increase in physicians opting for locum tenens work?
For starters, the benefits are hard to resist. Here are some of the many advantages of locum tenens work.

  • It's a chance to ‘test-drive’ a new career. Locum tenens gives graduates a true-life experience, where they can try out different assignments and make a better-informed decision about their career path. In addition, it helps them strengthen their resume and build confidence in their capabilities.
  • It supports a better work-life balance. Physicians that work locum tenens get to enjoy a level of career flexibility that enables them to control the amount of days and hours they work, for the rate they want. This is a benefit enjoyed most by older physicians who are looking for variety over commitment as they near retirement.
  • It provides more career independence. Locum tenens physicians have the ability to choose from a greater variety of jobs, enabling them to find opportunities wherever and whenever they like.
  • It allows you to broaden your horizons. Locum tenens physicians are exposed to different hospital systems. By adapting to new environments and situations, they are presented with more opportunities to expand their careers.
  • It helps you achieve greater personal fulfillment. Locum tenens physicians often have the opportunity to meet new contacts and deal with a wider array of patient cases. By working locum tenens assignments, they get personal fulfillment in knowing that they are helping a community in need of quality healthcare.

It's no coincidence that many of the benefits stated here are well-known initiatives to addressing physician burnout.

Financial benefits of locum tenens work

Flexibility, independence and personal fulfillment aren't the only benefits of locum tenens work. There are also various financial advantages that locum physicians tend to enjoy as well.

  • It's a great way to supplement your income. Many locum tenens physicians work part-time locum tenens jobs in addition to their regular full-time jobs. Although pay rates vary by location and specialty, many hospitals are usually willing to spend top-dollar to bring in highly-regarded locums. In fact, you may be able to earn up to 50% more in take-home pay this way.
  • It helps physicians meet their financial obligations. This extra income that comes from working locum tenens can help physicians meet their financial obligations, such as paying off student loan debt. In addition, taking on locum tenens work helps physicians achieve other financial goals, such as financing a home or pursuing new business ventures.
  • It cuts overhead costs. Unlike physicians who run their own practice, locum tenens physicians do not have to worry about overhead costs. Moreover, they don’t have to think about putting money back into their business.
  • It may even improve your insurance. Many locum tenens physicians get access to comprehensive malpractice insurance that covers them even after they have completed their assignments.

Still, there are plenty of reasons why locum tenens work isn't right for everyone.

Downsides and disadvantages of locum tenens work

All benefits considered, physicians considering locum tenens work should also take note of the potential challenges it may present.

Here are several reasons why locum tenens work isn't for everyone.

  • It requires a lot of travel. The idea of traveling to different facilities in different locations is exciting to some. If long car rides and airports aren’t your thing, the idea of traveling long distances for a short-term job may not be appealing.
  • It may pull you away from family and friends. Taking a job hundreds of miles away from your family and friends comes with its share of challenges.
  • It removes you from your comfort zone. The flexibility offered by locum tenens means that physicians have to constantly meet brand new staff, learn new policies at every facility they go to, work with new patients and deal with conditions they may have never encountered.

As you can see, all of these "downsides" are highly dependent on your own personal preferences and lifestyle choices.

Key takeaways

Today's gig economy supports freelance work like never before. Although locum tenens work is not new to the medical field, it is the closest thing the profession offers in terms of flexibility and independence.

All things considered, the pros of working locum tenens clearly outweigh the cons. Still, it's one thing to consider the opportunity from afar. It's another to embrace this fast-paced, transient lifestyle.

For those who are interested in making this career move, you're in luck. There are plenty of opportunities for locum tenens work that are readily available.

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