Locum tenens translates directly as “to hold the place of, to substitute for.” In medicine, it’s used to describe a doctor who fills a temporary position at a hospital or practice. This is known, casually, as locuming. In the medical community, there are many misconceptions about how it works, who does it, and why it’s important.
How does locuming work?
Health care facilities need to hire short-term help for a variety of reasons. They might need to cover a maternity leave, fill a gap after retirement, or cover a vacation. They might require a doctor with a particular specialty to train new staff — or they might simply need to cover a staff shortage, which is happening more and more across the country.
Whatever the reason, locum doctors are vital in these situations: they come in, often on short notice, get acclimated quickly, and can see patients who might otherwise have to wait longer or travel farther for treatment. In the end, locuming is all about closing gaps in the healthcare industry and making sure that everyone who needs to see a doctor — no matter where they are, no matter what they need — is able to.
Who can be a locum doctor?
If you have a medical degree and residency training, you can take on a locum tenens position. There are opportunities available in just about every specialty you can imagine.
The traditional stereotype of a locum doctor is someone in their first years of practice, or perhaps someone approaching retirement who wants to keep practising medicine but is looking for a different experience before they hang up their stethoscope. Both types of locum doctors do exist, but that’s not the whole picture. There is a great deal of diversity in the kinds of people (and their backgrounds) who choose to do it, especially in the last few years as the popularity of locuming has increased. It has become, for many physicians (both young and old), a lifestyle choice.
Just as the gig economy is changing the way other industries operate, the world of medicine — and those who work within it — is beginning to adapt. Locum doctors are highly coveted, highly respected assets for every medical employer.
Why is locuming important?
Locum tenens staffing offers vital freedom and flexibility to practices, hospitals and other healthcare institutions. The idea of locum tenens was born from an initiative to address doctor shortages in rural areas of the western United States. The program proved so successful that it was eventually adopted across the country — and then across North America and beyond.
Should you become a locum doctor?
There’s much to consider when deciding on whether to locum. It’s a very personal decision. While it brings a certain amount of uncertainty into your life, and probably isn’t ideal for someone who is looking to settle down or start a family after the whirlwind years of med school and residency, it’s a great way to test-drive a practice or work environment before committing to a permanent position. It can also give you an opportunity to travel across the country (and world) and experience different places, people and cultures.
Many doctors also appreciate how much it reduces the administrative side of their jobs: no hiring, no firing, no ordering supplies, no overwhelming operations tasks, etc. For physicians who want to focus on medicine, and are willing to take the risk, locuming can make for an amazing few years — and possibly even a lifelong career.