What Does “Locum Tenens” Mean and its Process in the Medical Field Explained by Dr. J. Fred Stoner

Dr. J. Fred Stoner
Jun 26 · 4 min read

For most professions, vacation is a given for at least a couple of weeks a year. For other professions, such as the medical field, it can be a lot harder to come by. For those with their own clinics and private practices, taking time off for personal matters becomes difficult, as patients’ appointments have been booked months, and in some cases years in advance, and wait lists can grow quickly. Many times, physicians will ask their colleagues to cover for them and see their patients when they are away, but many times this will increase waiting times for patients of both clinics, as well as add double the workload on the covering physician. Luckily, an alternative — medical locum tenens — has helped to fill the void, allowing physicians to take time off as needed, without the need to burden other working physicians, or inconveniencing their own patients.

Locum Tenens

Deriving from Latin roots, the original meaning of Locum Tenens is “to hold the place of” or “to substitute for”, and in the medical field represents the practice of physicians temporarily filling the position of another. Although it may sound intuitive, this practice only began in the late 1970s, when physicians were required to attend continuing medical education training, but those in rural areas unfortunately were unable to take time away from their practices. In the State of Utah, the Health Systems Research Institute began a program called the Rural Outreach Physician Education, which allowed physicians to go to the University of Utah for training, while they provided temporary physicians to cover their practice. From here, the practice of locum tenens began with companies arising for the sole purpose of linking those physicians willing to travel for work, and those physicians looking to be covered. Now, thousands of physicians, PAs, NPs, and CRNAs (travelling nurses) hold contracts with various companies around the US to provide their services to hospitals, clinics, and other medical centers.


Similar to other professions such as substitute teachers, medical locum tenens are responsible for the same work of the person they are covering for. Be it physicians, PAs, or nurses, they are still governed by their respective regulatory bodies, and must be certified to work where they are required. Generally, this requires having completed board certification exams and accreditation, as well as hold proper licensure for the state(s) in which they want to practice. Many times, the companies that work with the locum tenens may help with this process, especially if they have previously worked in other areas and are fully qualified. The physician role entails seeing patients on the schedule, performing histories and physicals, and diagnosing and treating as needed, as well as documenting the visit, and Dr. Fred J. Stoner explains that if the original physician covers certain days seeing patients at the hospital, this is also generally a part of the role.


Dr. J. Fred Stoner says that the biggest advantages for those working as locum tenens is the freedom to move around and travel while getting to work and get paid. For those looking for locum tenens, it provides the ease of mind that a qualified physician will be taking over and not having to stress about finding someone yourself to cover, or potentially even closing the clinic for days to weeks. Another big advantage to working as locum tenens is the flexibility, which allows for working in different regions and populations, giving experience in a variety of work environments and specialties. Due to the nature of locum tenens, it can be difficult to move around and settle in, and hence many times the pay is also quite higher than for a physician who would be staying on contract for an extended period.


The disadvantages of locum tenens are many times new clinics and hospitals have different sets of rules and regulations, and in general, ways of doing things. It can take some time to fully settle in and figure things out, and therefore many locum tenens may prefer to take longer posts or prefer to go back to places they have worked before rather than take on a new place. Dr. J. Fred Stoner says that another disadvantage is to the patients, as continuity of care is broken, and the covering physician may not have a full understanding of a patient’s history and what is going on. Some patients may prefer to move their appointment to a later time when their regular physician is back and available.

More information on Dr. Fred Stoner here.

Dr. J. Fred Stoner

Written by

Dr. J. Fred Stoner is an experienced pathologist and clinician specializing in pain management, at The Pain Centre based in New Castle, PA.

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