The term Locum Tenens has a large history, a somewhat obvious statement considering locum tenens is an expression from Latin, a dead language that’s thousands of years old. Locum tenens translates from Latin to mean “to hold the place of,” but today it usually means physician staffing or physician recruiting, as locum tenens physicians substitute or hold interim positions at short-staffed medical facilities until a permanent physician is hired. Locum tenens physicians thus fill an important role in today’s world of physician staffing.
The term locum tenens dates back to medieval times, when the Catholic Church provided clergy to parishes in areas where there were no priests available. These traveling clergy were called locum tenens, placeholders for the churches they served, and gradually this term applied to doctors as well, who filled in temporarily at a given community in need.
In the 1970s, the term locum tenens began to be commonly used for physician staffing or physician recruiting in medical facilities that experienced shortages. Originally these staffing shortages were seen largely in sparsely populated areas, as high-income positions in large cities drew doctors away from rural communities.
However, currently there is a need for locum tenens physicians in nearly all locations, ranging from New York City to Nevada, as physician staffing shortages have become more widespread. While positions for locum tenens physicians are temporary, the qualifications they must meet are still stringent, similar to ones required of permanent, practicing physicians.
With the health care industry expanding rapidly in America, locum tenens physicians are playing a larger role in the industry. Yet the term most likely remains unfamiliar to the majority of Americans who are not involved in institutions that use Latin regularly (like medical or religious institutions). The term is even less likely to gain common currency as its phonetics are difficult (loh-kuhm tee-nenz) compared to other synonyms for the term (like substitute or temporary worker).
Yet the term will definitely not go away as the industry of locum tenens physicians is a multi-billion-dollar one that continues to grow as physician staffing shortages rise. This growth in temporary physician staffing is projected to increase as the health care industry continues to expand from its current position of 17 percent of the U.S. economy. With large populations in the developing world needing and demanding increasing medical care, look for locum tenens physicians to continue to expand to other areas of the world too, even if most people have difficulty pronouncing the term locum tenens or understanding its history.