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When should mid-career primary care physicians consider locum tenens work?


Unlike permanent positions, locum tenens work gives primary care physicians the flexibility to test the waters before fully committing to a new employer.

Unlike permanent positions, locum tenens work gives primary care physicians the flexibility to test the waters before fully committing to a new employer.

“The perspective [on locum tenens work] has changed a ton,” says Derek Collie, senior recruiting consultant for Delta Locums. “With all the unrest in healthcare, it’s becoming more common. We have physicians calling us all the time. It’s been interesting to watch this develop.”

Typically, physicians interested in locum tenens positions fall at one end of the career spectrum: Either recent medical school graduates who want to explore new locations, or recently retired physicians who want to extend their careers. But Collie says these temporary positions can also be ideal for physicians who are mid-career and want to change course.

“One of the most common reasons why physicians do locums is they are unhappy where they are,” says Collie. “They’re overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.”

Collie says a common misconception about locum tenens is that the timeframe of most positions is too brief to be worth a physician’s time. But in reality, the average contract lasts about 3 to 6 months, and he says in many cases, contacts will last indefinitely. They may also lead to a permanent position.

Locum physicians “get to evaluate the facility and see if that’s going to be a good fit long term,” says Collie. “All of the things that may make a relationship go sour that you don’t get to test out during an interview process, you get to test with locums. It really leads to a better marriage down the road between a physician and employers.”

The pay for locum tenens physicians providing outpatient care may be slightly less, since benefits will not be included. But for those providing inpatient care, the pay will likely be above average, says Collie. For physicians who don’t want to leave the stability of a permanent position in pursuit of temporary work, weekend locum tenens positions can also be lucrative.

Collie says vetting the job is incredibly important before accepting an offer. He recommends physicians ask about the location, salary, scheduling, and patient load. They should also ask for a phone screening with the facility. 


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