What is a Locum Tenens?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A locum tenens is a professional who fills in for someone else, providing the same service for the same fee. Locum tenentes may be used for teachers, police officers, lawyers, and members of the clergy, but work as a locum tenens is most commonly associated with people in the medical field. A locum tenens doctor may be needed for any number of reasons, ranging from a regular doctor's vacation to an unfilled position which needs to be temporarily occupied.

Locum tenens veterinarians might fill in for regular vets.
Locum tenens veterinarians might fill in for regular vets.

In Latin, this term literally means “one who holds a place.” Depending on where one is in the world, people may use the shorthand “locum” to refer to someone filling a temporary position, and “locums” in the plural. In regions where people are sticklers about their Latin, the plural “locum tenentes” may be used. Terms like “substitute teacher” may be used to talk about specific professions.

A doctor who works as a locum tenens may do so through a professional organization which places locums, or he or she may work independently, filling in as needed by request. In small towns, doctors and veterinarians often make locum agreements with each other to ensure that everyone gets a chance to take time off, and to confirm that medical care will always be available to the community.

When someone works as a locum tenens, the work takes place in someone else's clinic, using their equipment, lab services, and so forth. The locum must be able to offer the standard of care offered by the regular physician, along with the same rates. The specifics of the job are generally spelled out in a contract, in which fees, hourly wages, and so forth are discussed, along with specific terms like an “out” clause which allows the doctor to leave if the position does not work out.

Patients may feel uneasy about seeing a locum tenens if they have an established relationship with a doctor, but they should remember that the temporary placeholder has the same capability as their usual physician. If patients have special arrangements with their doctors in regards to payment, checkups, and so forth, they may want to get the details in writing for the benefit of the locum.

For doctors, working as a locum tenens can be interesting, because it exposes medical professionals to all sorts of people, clinical environments, and places. It's important to read the contract carefully, though, to ensure that the terms are fully understood. Some things to think about include who bears the responsibility for carrying malpractice insurance, what kind of hours are expected, and whether the physician is paid directly or through an agency.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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