Travel Doctor: Pros and Cons of the Locum Tenens Physician


Travel Doctor: Pros and Cons of the Locum Tenens Physician

With an increased demand for temporary qualified locum tenens physicians, the option to become a travel doctor has become a real and viable source of income and employment. Today, many physicians can work exclusively as locum tenens physicians or can pick up an occasional job to supplement a full-time position. While becoming a locum tenens physician is in high demand right now, this lifestyle isn’t right for everyone. Like any career choice, it is recommended to assess all the pros and cons to determine if a career as a travel doctor is right for you.

What is a Locum Tenens Physician?

The term locum tenens is a Latin phrase that means “to hold the place of, to substitute for,” and it has been adopted by the medical community to define a travel doctor who fills temporary positions for areas in need. Adapted in the early 1970s as a way to provide physician staffing services to rural health clinics in medically under-served areas, the locum tenens physician movement has since gained momentum and popularity.

The demand for locum tenens physicians has grown so much that the industry realized that they needed to set professional guidelines and standards for travel doctors. As a result, in 2001 the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO) was created to “enforce strong industry standards and practices, stressing honesty, objectivity, integrity, and competency.” (1)  

NALTO helps organize locum tenens work and provides guidelines for practice and procedure for companies, clients and healthcare providers. Many companies look for locum tenens physicians for a variety of reasons, such as current staff vacations or sabbaticals, to supplement seasonal staffing needs or for permanent vacancies. Contracting a locum tenens physician is a cost-effective solution for many rural companies who have the option to supplement their permanent staff rather than staffing to full capacity at all times.

Pros And Cons Of The Traveling Doctor

Perhaps you are not feeling fulfilled in your current job. Or maybe you are just looking for a change of scenery or are fresh out of medical school and willing to travel for a few years. Whatever your reasons for choosing the travel doctor lifestyle, make sure you weigh the pros and cons of this lifestyle to determine if this is indeed something that could interest you.

If executed properly, working as a traveling doctor can be an exciting adventure of a lifetime. While it can come with its hardships, it all depends on what you want to do with your time, experience and life.

Pros of the Traveling Doctor

You Get Paid to Travel

If you want to explore the United States, there is no better way to do this than working as a locums physician. If you’re going to visit a big city like Seattle or spend your summer in rural Montana, you can do so by obtaining a locums position within the area that pays for your services. This flexibility of location allows you to shift gears and move out of your comfort zone and into cities you may have never visited before. Also, there is always a possibility that you may fall in love with a rural town, and pick up a permanent position in a location you always wanted to visit and live in but never thought you could!


As a locum tenens physician, you have the flexibility to name your schedule and your availability. When you submit your CV for an open position, you can be your boss and can determine if you want to work a few days, weeks or even months. A locum tenens physician has ultimate control over their schedule and can work as much, or as little as they want.

Avoid Workplace Politics

When you are a transient employee, you have the benefit of avoiding the office politics that plague every hospital or clinical center. The drama that is tied up with interpersonal relationships or professional advancements does not affect you or your performance, which means that you can focus more on your work.

Hands-On Experiences

Locum tenens provides an immense amount of valuable and professional experience. As traveling locum tenens physician, you will work with different healthcare facilities, colleagues, patients, and demographics that teach on-the-ground skills that could not be gained from medical school or from working at only one place your entire career. A locum tenens position also enhances your resume and also provides a fantastic networking opportunity.

Cons of the Traveling Doctor

You Are Only A Temporary Employee

If you’re used to being in a position of authority or an academic teacher, you may struggle to find a spot you “fit in.”  Being a travel doctor doesn’t always mean you are the final authority at whatever clinic or hospital you eventually work. Unfortunately, when you fill a locum tenens physician spot, you may not be sought out for your experience or your expertise on the subject matter. Most people will file you away as someone who is transitional, and you might find yourself on the outskirts of social gatherings or missing out on the question and answer sessions.

Constant Credentialing

Traveling to different cities and states also means that you have to do your due diligence with your credentials and licensing. Each state has a different approach with locum tenens physicians and some may accept locum tenens credentialing, and others may not. To make this process easier, reach out to a professional licensure company like Medical License Pro, who will be able to assist you with your new license application or your license renewal for the various states you might find yourself working.

You Must Navigate Your Healthcare Benefits

Used to that 401(k) or a company that covers your malpractice insurance? Unfortunately, that goes away as a travel doctor. As a locum tenens physician – you are on your own. While your options for health, life, and disability insurance are vast, you are now in charge of securing the plan that is right for you and your family. While this isn’t an extreme hardship, it can be difficult for those who are used to a particular lifestyle, and now they have to navigate the in’s and out’s of healthcare coverage while also budgeting for retirement and taxes.

If executed properly, working as a travel doctor can be an exciting adventure of a lifetime. If you are looking to explore the country, make your schedule, meet new and exciting people, then this could be the lifestyle for you. While it can come with its hardships, it all depends on what you want to do with your time, experience and life.


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