by Patrick C. Alguire, MD, FACP
Director, Education and Career Development
Although not exactly a career alternative in itself, a locum tenens is often an excellent way to begin a career in medicine. Locum tenens is a Latin phrase that literally means 'one who "holds the place,"' and refers to a physician who temporarily carries on the practice of an absent colleague.
A locum tenens may be just the ticket to experience an urban, rural, solo, small group, multispecialty group, or a hospital-associated practice before actually beginning your career. A locum tenens allows you the opportunity to experience "risk free" the lifestyles associated with various geographic locations before deciding upon your ultimate location.
Information on locum tenens opportunities is almost unlimited. Typical resources include classified ads in professional journals, medical magazines, the American Medical Association, and some state medical societies. A quick search of the Internet uncovered 26 recruiting firms that provide national and local locum tenens placement services. However, before entering into a contract with a recruiting firm, take a moment to review "Finding the Right Career Opportunity" and "Selecting a Search Firm" to learns the ins and outs of working with a recruiting firm.
An important consideration when evaluating locum tenens opportunities is the availability and extent of malpractice insurance. As reported by Patrick J. Molly in "Planning your Entry into Medical Practice," one survey found that 30% of locum tenens practices provided only basic claims-made malpractice insurance without tail coverage. Of course, this would be totally inadequate for a situation that is, by definition, temporary. A malpractice tail must either be negotiated as part of the locum tenens agreement or purchased separately.
Expect a locum tenens position to pay slightly more than a comparable salaried position in a group practice. This is because you will not be earning any benefits as a locum tenens practitioner, and the salary for the position needs to be high enough to attract qualified physicians.
In summary, a locum tenens may be most appropriate for physicians who have not yet finalized their plans for further specialty training or practice. It provides an ideal opportunity to experience different types of practices in various parts of the country without significant monetary investment. The salary is generally very competitive, but benefits are often lacking and arranging suitable malpractice insurance will be a priority task.
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