Is Locum Tenens Worth It For Physicians? 2024 Guide

Finding financial freedom means maximizing your income. Whether you’re a new physician or established, you may wonder if locum tenens is worth it for physicians and how you’d go about it.

Check out this guide on locum tenens to see if it’s worth it for you.

What Is a Locum Tenens Physician?

Locum tenens is Latin for ‘to hold a place.’ In other words, it’s a temporary position for doctors; some call it a traveling doctor position.

Doctors who work locum tenens fill in wherever needed, whether the regular doctor is on vacation or sick or the area doesn’t have regular doctors and relies on locum tenens to fill the gaps.

How Does Locum Tenens Work?

Locum tenens physicians work in various settings, including hospitals and small and large practices. Doctors in these positions are temporary workers and must either work with an agency or contact hospitals and practices directly to find new work.

Every situation is different. Some doctors are hired to fill a temporary gap, such as when a doctor is on vacation, and others have long-term positions that need filling because they can’t find reputable doctors to hire full-time.

Most physicians working locum tenens earn hourly pay but operate as independent contractors. This means you’re responsible for both sides of income tax – employer and employee. However, many agencies also pay per diem for travel costs, including lodging and meals, if you must stay away from home to work the position.

Why Consider Locum Tenens as a Physician?

You may wonder if locum tenens is worth it or why you would consider it. Here are some of the top reasons.

  • Try different opportunities: If you’re a new physician and unsure where to plant your roots, working locum tenens can help you see what’s available. You can try opportunities in different areas and practices to see what you like.
  • You like to travel: Traveling for doctors is difficult because you must take time away from your practice (not that it’s impossible), but working locum tenens gives you the best of both worlds; you work and travel simultaneously.
  • You want to cut down but not retire: If you’re at the other end of the spectrum and have had your career but aren’t ready to fully retire, locum tenens provides the opportunity to work without the burden of owning a practice or working full-time for someone.
  • You want extra money: You can also work locum tenens while having a full-time career. Some doctors do this as a side hustle to increase their income temporarily or as a way to supplement income when fresh out of residency when pay is lower.

Pros and Cons

Of course, when determining if locum tenens is worth it, you should consider the pros and cons of this career path.


  • Freedom: You can work as little or as much as you want and choose where you work. If traveling is your thing, you can travel and work, or if you’re trying out new niches, you can do it without committing and finding ways out if you don’t like it.
  • Good pay: Locum tenens positions usually pay well, ensuring you get paid what you’re worth. This includes additional pay for on-call periods or other special circumstances. You’re valued for your work and not taken for granted or forced to fight to the top.
  • Control over your schedule: You have a bit more say about when you work when you work locum tenens. For example, if you only want to work part-time or avoid on-call hours, you can specify that when looking for work.
  • No office ‘politics’: Every office has an environment that feels like everyone is out to get everyone else, or there are certain responsibilities you must manage, like serving on the board or other committees. You come and go, doing a short stint, making money, and moving onto the next gig.


  • Must have your own health insurance: As an independent contractor, you don’t get benefits, including health insurance. Unless your spouse has health insurance benefits at his/her job, you are on your own to find coverage, which usually costs more when it’s not through an employer.
  • Hard to fit in: It can be hard to fit in with others when you move from job to job. Unless you land a locum tenens position that has you at the facility for an extended period, you can start to feel like a loner or like the ‘new kid’ each time you start a new position.
  • No guarantee of work: Working temporary positions doesn’t guarantee income. You might be without a job for a few weeks or longer; there’s no way to predict what will be available for the terms you want. This could leave gaps in your income that you didn’t anticipate.

Considerations Before Opting for Locum Tenens

When looking for a locum tenens agency to work for, here are some of the top considerations.

Assistance with Credentials

If you plan to travel when working locums tenens, you may need to transfer your credentials across state lines. This isn’t an easy endeavor, so look for an agency that offers assistance with this process to ease the burden.

NALTO Membership

Look for agencies who are members of NALTO, the National Association of Locums Tenens Organization. Members must follow the strict guidelines the organization sets so you know you’re in good hands.

Adequate Specialties

Ensure the agency you choose works within the specialties in which you desire to find employment. If you’re looking to broaden your expertise, you’ll want an agency that works in many fields.

Malpractice Coverage

You might carry your own malpractice insurance, but working with an agency that supplements what you carry can protect you further. Look for an agency that willingly shares their insurance information.

Tips To Help Physicians Succeed in Locum Tenens

Succeeding as a locums tenens is possible with adequate effort on your part. Here are some key tips to get you started:

  • Provide information quickly: When being considered for a position, provide the requested information quickly. This means they’ve already done the administrative work to ensure you’re fit for the position, so it’s beneficial to move quickly to secure it.
  • Be flexible: You may not always get the desired position or location. But the more flexible you are and open to new opportunities, the more successful you’ll be working locum tenens.
  • Be respectful: No matter what you think of the practice you work for or how they run things, remember, you are a temporary worker. Your job is to fulfill the physician duties they hired you for and nothing else. Keep your opinions to yourself, and don’t try to change things.
  • Ask questions: Before accepting a position, be sure to ask the agency as many questions as possible. This ensures you know what’s expected of you and what you should expect so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises.
  • Leave a good impression: The medical industry is large, but word-of-mouth spreads quickly. The better impression you leave behind, the more likely you are to be hired by other practices in the future.

Where To Find the Right Locum Tenens Agency

Your best bet to find the right locum tenens agency is to search online. Look for smaller agencies in your area because you’ll have more room for negotiation with smaller agencies. Larger agencies have a larger candidate pool and are less likely to meet your salary demands.

Local agencies also provide more personalized service. You don’t work with a team of representatives but instead have a single point of contact who gets to know you and helps you find the best positions.

Of course, word-of-mouth is a good option too. Network as much as possible and get referrals from others who have worked locum tenens and had a good experience.

The key is working with as many agencies as possible to diversify your efforts to find the perfect position. Each agency contracts with different facilities and has different opportunities. The more you are in contact with, the more likely you’ll find the right position.


As you wonder ‘is locums tenens worth it,’ here are more questions to ponder.

How Much Is a Locum Tenens Salary?

Locum tenens make anywhere from $90 to $250 an hour, depending on the location, demand, and specialty. The highest paid locums tenens specialty is radiology and emergency medicine doctors in most areas. If you have a specific hourly pay in mind, work with an agency to determine the areas that can accommodate your needs.

How Do Locum Tenens Get Paid?

Yes, locum tenens get paid, usually by the hour. There are also bonuses or add-ons, depending on the contract terms. Most agencies or practices also cover travel costs, including lodging, transportation, and food.

What Do I Need To Know About Locum Tenens Recruiters?

You should never pay a locum tenens recruiter. The practice hiring them to find physicians covers the cost. Any recruiter that asks for payment upfront is likely a scam and should be avoided.

How Does Locum Tenens Compare to a Permanent Job?

Locum tenens has benefits, including flexibility, freedom to travel, and the choice of what you want to do. A permanent job, however, has more benefits, including health insurance and retirement plans, and provides a greater income guarantee since you have a full-time position. There’s always the risk that you’ll be without a position for any length of time when working locum tenens.

Does Locum Tenens Exist for All Physician Specialties?

Locum tenens positions exist for just about any specialty. The difference is there may not be as high of a demand for certain specialties. Working with a reputable agency can help you find the best positions to work locum tenens.

How Long Can a Locum Tenens Physician Work?

How long you work locum tenens varies by position and assignment. You might work for a couple of days or a couple of months; it depends on what the practice needs.

Is Locum Tenens Worth It For Physicians?

Locum tenens can be a great way to supplement income when starting your career, to segway to retirement without going cold turkey, or to have the freedom you desire mid-career.

Locum tenens is worth it if you understand the pros and cons and can secure health insurance another way. You must also not mind handling your own taxes while bouncing around in different positions when each job ends.