Skip to main content
At any point in your career, you might consider locum tenens. Locum tenens is a Latin term meaning “place holder". In the medical world, it refers to a healthcare practitioner who steps in temporarily for another — usually for a year or more.

Locum tenens can offer you flexibility and opportunities to explore career options. You might consider it at the beginning of your career to try out different kinds of practices and locations, midcareer to help you decide if you want to switch paths, or when you are winding down, so you can gain more flexibility in life.

Pros and cons of locum

There is no “one size fits all.” Consider your wants and needs when you think about locum.

Locum can give you exposure to the followings:

  • Travel – You can experience different locations to see where and what are the best fits for you before you settle down. Or maybe you don’t want to settle down and like variety — assignments can be rural or urban.
  • Helping those in need – In Canada, fifteen percent of the population do not have access to regular medical care. This hits the Northwest Territories particularly hard, where the percentage rises to 48%.
  • Learning opportunities – You may find an interest in something new, and your CV will reflect a diverse experience.
  • Flexibility – You choose where and when you work. You can take time off when you want without worrying about finding someone to cover.
  • Discover Canada – You might end up at a practice or location that suits you enough to make a life there.


On the other hand, these are possible drawbacks for some:

  • Not setting down roots – The roaming life may not be your cup of tea. You may not have the comfort of a stable routine.
  • Time away from friends and family You may be posted to a remote spot and have to deal with feeling cut off or loneliness.
  • A steep learning curve – You need to be a fast learner to quickly get up to speed on new computer systems (EMRs are not the same throughout the country), and center policies, cultures, systems, and routines.
  • Health insurance – You may have to provide your own or pay intermediaries.
  • Income may be unpredictable – You may find yourself too busy, or not busy enough. And you won’t be paid for your time off.
  • Fitting in – How outgoing are you? Do you easily meet new people at work, or does it fill you with dread?


How to find locum tenens opportunities

Ask your medical association for names of reputable companies that specialize in placing professionals for locum tenens opportunities. Informally, you might also ask colleagues, mentors, professors, or call clinics and department heads.

Questions to ask before signing up for a locum tenens spot

Do your homework before you jump in. Barry Brayshaw, Director, Physician Locum Services, Alberta Medical Association, recommends asking the following questions first:

  • How long is the position, and what flexibility is there?
  • How much will you be taking home?
  • Is there a contract? If not, draft one with a lawyer. This should include specific procedures you will be required to perform (or not perform), who is responsible for billing, and who pays for travel, overhead and housing. Here is a sample.
  • What are the patients like? Geriatric, women, teens? Are there specific diseases or conditions? Are there particular demographic needs?
  • Are you required to be on call at certain times, do house calls, or perform rounds at a nursing home, clinic, emergency room or rehab facility?
  • What is the average number of patients seen daily?
  • How much time is allotted per appointment?
  • Medical charts – check to see that they are organized and easy to comprehend.
  • Will you be provided with a place to stay? If not, what is the housing market like in that area?
  • Is the organization covered, or are health insurance and medical malpractice your responsibility?
  • How compatible are you? Meet the staff ahead of time to see if the culture seems like a good fit. Is this a place that you could call home for a while?


Locum tenens is all up to you

“Locuming is a practice option that can fit for almost any physician. The flexibility offers a great opportunity for learning, seeing how things are done in other practices, and meeting some great colleagues, while earning a good income. You have nothing to lose, since you can always adjust, to create a practice and lifestyle blend that best suits your preferences,” says Brayshaw.

The beauty of locum tenens is that it’s all about your choices and your needs. There are no right or wrong answers. If one placement turns out to be not a good fit, you have learned something about yourself and can use that to inform your next choice.