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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Locum Tenens Doctor

Tracy B.
Jan. 27, 2022
10-minute read
If you’ve been considering working as a locum tenens physician either in Canada or internationally, chances are you’re weighing the pros against the pitfalls. Here we’ll explore both sides of locum tenens work and provide some helpful resources on becoming a locum if you decide it’s right for you.
What is “locum tenens?” A locum doctor is one who fills in for another physician while they take a leave or vacation or experience patient overflow. Literally, the term “locum tenens” is a Latin phrase meaning “to hold the place of.”

PROS of becoming a locum doctor:

1. You can travel in Canada or abroad Locum tenens positions are readily available across the country and in many locations around the world—from Australia and China to the UK and Caribbean. If you’re leaving the province, expect some paperwork up front, with additional administration requirements for international locum positions. 2. You’re in control of how much you work Work a little, work a lot. It’s up to you as a locum. New doctors often choose to run a full time practice and take on additional locum work during evenings and weekends for extra income. Some doctors might exclusively seek part-time locum work or schedule intentional breaks for family and travel between full-time locum tenens positions to ensure a consistent work/life balance. 3. You should have plenty of time for patients Depending on the locum role you choose, you can likely look forward to spending your entire day focused solely on patient care without the heavy time and cost commitment of running a practice. 4. Locum work is readily available Locum doctors are in high demand in Canada and beyond. Some specialties in particular are especially sought after, leading to the potential for higher incomes and an abundance of choices in locations, hours and positions.

CONS of becoming a locum doctor:

1. Not your practice, not your rules When you run your own practice, you’re in charge. As a locum, however, for the most part you will be expected to follow the procedures in place where you work (even if you have the experience to improve things). 2. Everything’s new… every time Each locum job will come with new technology, new colleagues, new workplace culture and new patients. Navigating this steep learning curve over and over again is not for everyone. 3. You are constantly on the hunt for the next job While locum work is plentiful, locum positions are often short—from a couple of days or weeks in Canada to a couple of years abroad. Your ideal locum location or timing may not always be available, and you may feel like you’re constantly combing locum job sites to string together consistent work that meets all of your criteria. 4. Too much locum work can lead to burnout While locum work on its own often results in a better work/life balance, it’s easy to overdo it. For example, if you’re running your own practice while also filling evenings and weekends with locum work, watch for signs of physician burnout.

Who should become a locum tenens doctor?

Any fully qualified doctor can be a good fit for locum work. It’s historically a popular choice among new doctors looking to test-drive a practice, gain a variety of experiences or make some extra money. Doctors nearing retirement also gravitate to locum positions so they can still practice while enjoying more free time. However, doctors at any career stage may choose locum work for these reasons, too—and mid-career doctors are doing so in increasing numbers. Generally, it’s a great fit for doctors who crave variety, enjoy meeting new people, and have an appetite for adventure or travel.

Where to find locum tenens positions

Job boards like locums.ca, Locums Ontario and others are excellent resources if you want to stay in Canada. A quick Google search will also reveal several locum job sites dedicated to international placements. Another option is locum tenens staffing agencies. Beyond being a portal to locum opportunities, a medical staffing agency may also sift through opportunities on your behalf to find those that best match your unique skills, timing and career goals. Often, staffing agencies will even help you negotiate compensation and provide support with obtaining licenses and relocation services. Sometimes the best locum roles can be found by word of mouth. Let your network know you’re looking. Check in on the alumni job board at your medical school. Get in touch with your specialty’s society, where you may be able to tap into a niche job board.

What to ask before you accept a locum position

Locum tenens opportunities can vary significantly in expectations. To ensure you minimize the possibility for undesirable surprises, make sure you ask a lot of questions up front, including:
  • What dates and hours will I be providing coverage?
  • Are accommodation and travel expenses included?
  • What is the compensation model?
    • Income split
    • Any overhead cost responsibilities
    • Minimum income guarantee per shift
    • Premiums available
  • Will I be expected to be on-call, and if so, during what hours?
  • What is your orientation process?
    • Meeting staff
    • Walking through technology and passwords
    • Providing background on patients with complex needs
    • Getting hospital privileges in place
  • What is your workplace culture like?

Getting paid as a locum

As a locum in Canada, you may be paid directly through the clinic you work for, but most often you will work on the fee-for-service model and bill the provincial health service yourself. This is where Dr. Bill comes in! If you work in Ontario, B.C., or Alberta, Dr. Bill makes it easy to submit claims on your phone in seconds. Dr. Bill travels with you seamlessly from one locum position to the next, so even when you don’t stay in one place, your billing will. Need help getting started with billing for locum work? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Ultimate Locum Tenens eBook

If you can picture yourself living la vida locum, check out our Ultimate Locum Guide for deeper insights on average locum salaries, negotiating rates of pay, special locum incentives and more.

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Tracy is a seasoned senior-level content writer and full time team member at Dr.Bill. By staying closely connected to the needs of Canadian healthcare professionals, she creates to-the-point content that helps physicians manage their medical billing and their practices better.
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