CompHealth Blog Repost: Character Traits of a Professional Locum Tenens

The following article is a repost that was was originally published on at

I recently showed up to my orientation at a new hospital to work two back-to-back marathon shifts of 72 and 48 hours and was greeted by the on-call Hospitalist of the day, interestingly a former locum tenens herself. It was 9 a.m., I had a brief orientation day to get broken in. Then at 5 p.m. the plan was to drop me in, as if some sort of special reinforcement, hoping I’d survive and bring the patients and medical team with me. Maybe it’s never that grandiose outside of my head, but as she left me in the burning building she turned to me and said, “It’s ok, I’m sure you’ll be fine since you’re a Professional Locum Tenens.” “Professional,” quite a flattering comment to think about, and then I realized that I’ve established a unique role and fostered a niche focus over the last few years as the Nomadic Pediatrician. She was right, I pick up jobs all over the country, flying from one to the other, get dropped into new zones and must figure it out almost immediately – maybe “professional” is accurate.

It made me think towards what defines someone that does locum tenens at this level. Instead of going away for a weekend, or every other week even, I hop from one job to the next with no clearly defined home base. In 2021 I traveled a total of 320 days. The following have been not only helpful but vital to my success:

  • Communication – Simple yet lacking in so many. I answer my phone, I discuss plans, I respond quickly and professionally. Being unable to reach a provider is one of the most destructive and fixable traits to have. As a constantly new provider, it’s unacceptable for staff not to be able to reach you, let alone hard enough to remember your name.

  • Flexibility – My strongest trait at this point, I can be taught an EMR in the morning and start seeing patients in it by the afternoon. There’s no shadowing. There’s no week of orientation. I’m given a blueprint to the labyrinth and told to run. The learning curve is exponential. The ability to flow into the shape of one vessel to the other is one of the fundamental things that sets locum providers apart from others.

  • Trust – I must learn to trust not only my instinct but also the places I go to. It’s hard to become familiar with a new facility but remembering that it’s not my home is helpful. I turn to the staff to guide me. I hold truth towards my clinical skill and my training but listen to everything that my surroundings tell me. Trust becomes a survival technique that cannot be overstated. That being said, I must also balance this with the fact that trust requires mutual time to be earned; and, slowly, I learn when I can walk and when I need to run to answer a call.

  • Self-Awareness – As much as I love going from one place to the next, I do hold caution as the newcomer from place to place. As a new face, every single eye and ear in the hospital is watching what we do and listening to what we say. We are held to a higher level of scrutiny as locum tenens providers and it is important that we are cognizant of the delicate affect this has on our job longevity. Being self-aware of our place in a new system is critical to fitting in and sticking around.

At the end of the day, I absolutely love being a full times locum tenens provider. In some ways, I feel like a secret agent or special operation task force sent in for the special play when the team needs a new idea. While enthusiasm for any job is necessary to make a good impression; the overall continued placement at job after job depends on the basic tenants that make a good worker and a good doctor. The same things that make someone a great medical student, a resident, or attending are the pillars needed to be a great Professional Locum Tenens doctor.

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