Locum Tenens Assignment Length: How Long is the Typical Contract?

As a placeholder or temporary physician, locums doctors gain one significant benefit over their full-time colleagues: flexibility. Physicians who choose to work as a locum tenens provider are able to see new places and meet new people with each assignment.  Traveling across state lines or to the other side of the country is common as providers care for patients in large and small facilities of many types.  The details of the job will vary widely depending on the doctor’s specialty and practice setting and can range from large urban hospital to small rural clinics with only one doctor for miles. There are often plenty of surprises for physicians who try locums work—less -than-satisfactory housing conditions, unfamiliar documentation and billing systems, and new faces that can’t be trusted yet. But at least the length of the job won’t be a mystery. Duration of locum tenens jobs range from very short assignments that are only a few shifts to long commitments requiring a year or more in one place.

Varying lengths

The duration of a job will depend entirely upon why the doctor is needed. If a provider is filling in for a physician off for maternity or health leave, he or she may fill in for 12 weeks or so and will leave when the regular provider is ready to return. In other cases, a locums provider may cover a sudden hole until the hospital can find a permanent replacement for them. Other needs include vacation coverage, or extra staff  for a hospital or bed expansion.  Varying contract lengths make it easy to try locums work and then choose longer contracts if the physician wants to. Shorter contracts may be better for providers with a busy personal life and longer ones may fit those who enjoy immersing themselves in their work with little to tie them down elsewhere. But whatever is chosen, make sure it is done wisely—it’s difficult if not impossible to back out of a job once it’s started.

Permanent placement and extensions

Most locums agencies who connect providers with healthcare facilities do not offer permanent placement jobs. There may be a case where the provider enjoys a location and assignment and if he or she does a good job, may be offered a full time position by the facility. This is okay as long as the provider finishes his assignment with the locums agency first.  Extensions on an assignment are also possible. Terms should be negotiated just as they would be for a new contract, making sure the new timeframe meets the providers wishes. If the facility is asking the provider for more time than he or she wants to commit to, there may be an option to contract for a portion of the extension.

Multiple offers

Providers looking for locums work are not usually limited to working with just one locums agency. Getting locum tenens is a first-come, first-served field and jobs are offered to whoever answers the call first. Providers interested in the most job choices can usually register with multiple agencies, but this can vary depending on the company. Make sure to ask.


By Rachel Ballard RNC, BSN

rachel ballard squareRachel Ballard

Rachel Ballard is a certified registered nurse and owner of the medical writing company iHealth Communications. iHealth teams with healthcare leaders to create written content that boosts revenue and builds relationships. Learn more about Rachel on Google+