What is the Difference Between Per Diem and Locum Tenens?

physician locum tenens

What is the Difference Between Per Diem and Locum Tenens?

Locum Tenens and Per Diem are two pivotal yet distinct employment models in the healthcare industry, each catering to specific needs of medical facilities and the lifestyles of healthcare professionals. Locum Tenens, a Latin phrase meaning “to hold the place of,” refers to physicians who temporarily fill vacancies in hospitals or clinics, often in different geographical locations. This role is crucial for ensuring uninterrupted patient care during periods of staff shortages, maternity leaves, or extended vacations. In contrast, Per Diem, which translates to “for each day,” involves physicians or healthcare workers who are employed on a day-to-day basis. These professionals typically do not have long-term commitments to a single facility, offering them a high degree of flexibility.

Both roles are integral to the healthcare system, providing essential services that maintain the quality and continuity of patient care. Locum Tenens positions are often seen as a way for physicians to explore different clinical environments, gain diverse experiences, and even travel, all while fulfilling critical staffing needs. Per Diem roles, meanwhile, offer healthcare workers the opportunity to balance their professional commitments with personal or other professional pursuits, such as further education or family responsibilities.

Understanding the nuances of these roles is essential for healthcare professionals considering alternative working arrangements. Each model presents unique benefits and challenges, and the choice between them depends on individual career goals, lifestyle preferences, and personal circumstances. In this context, exploring the nature of work, compensation structures, and the impact on work-life balance for both Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles becomes crucial for making informed career decisions.

For more insights into these roles, visit Professional insights from the American Medical Association.

The Nature of Work in Locum Tenens and Per Diem

The nature of work in Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles varies significantly, influenced by factors such as location, duration, and the specific requirements of the healthcare facilities.

Locum Tenens:

  • Involves filling temporary positions in various healthcare settings, which can range from rural clinics to urban hospitals.
  • Assignments can vary in length, from a few days to several months, sometimes even longer.
  • Requires adaptability to different clinical environments and patient populations.
  • Often includes travel to different locations, sometimes across state lines.
  • Provides opportunities to experience diverse medical practices and healthcare systems.

Per Diem:

  • Typically involves working in familiar, local settings, often within the healthcare professional’s community.
  • Offers flexibility in scheduling, with shifts often available on short notice.
  • Allows healthcare workers to choose when and where they work, providing control over their professional commitments.
  • Ideal for those seeking to balance clinical work with other personal or professional responsibilities.
  • Often used by healthcare facilities to manage short-term staffing needs, such as covering for sick leaves or sudden increases in patient volume.

Both Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles require a high degree of professionalism and the ability to quickly adapt to new environments and teams. Locum Tenens, with its often-changing locations and patient demographics, demands a versatile skill set and a readiness to face diverse medical challenges. Per Diem work, while generally more predictable in terms of location, requires the ability to integrate swiftly into existing teams and workflows.

For detailed compensation trends and insights into these roles, see Latest trends in medical careers.

In summary, the nature of work in Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles is shaped by the unique demands and opportunities each presents. Understanding these differences is key for healthcare professionals in making career choices that align with their personal and professional goals.

For more information on balancing a medical career with these roles, explore In-depth articles on medical career choices.

Financial Aspects – Compensation and Benefits

The financial implications of Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles in healthcare are markedly different, each reflecting the unique nature and demands of these work models. Understanding these differences is crucial for medical professionals when considering their career paths.

Locum Tenens:

  • Locum Tenens positions typically offer higher compensation than permanent positions, reflecting the need for flexibility and the willingness to work in varied locations.
  • These roles often include additional benefits such as housing allowances, travel reimbursements, and sometimes even meal stipends, especially for assignments that require relocation or extensive travel.
  • Compensation structures can vary widely depending on the location, specialty, and urgency of the need. In high-demand areas or specialties, Locum Tenens physicians can command premium rates.
  • Some Locum Tenens roles may also offer bonuses for extended commitments or for filling particularly urgent needs.
  • The compensation package for Locum Tenens often reflects the temporary and sometimes challenging nature of the assignments, compensating for the lack of long-term job security and benefits associated with permanent positions.

Per Diem:

  • Per Diem roles typically offer hourly pay rates, which can be higher than the hourly rates of salaried positions, but without the benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, or paid time off.
  • These positions provide a steady income source, ideal for individuals seeking flexibility without the commitment of full-time employment.
  • Per Diem workers often have the opportunity to work additional shifts to increase their earnings, though this is contingent on the availability of shifts and the individual’s willingness to work them.
  • The lack of long-term benefits in Per Diem roles is often offset by the greater control over work schedules and the ability to balance multiple commitments or interests.
  • Financial stability in Per Diem work is closely tied to the availability of shifts and the worker’s ability to manage sporadic work schedules.

Flexibility and Work-Life Balance

Flexibility and work-life balance are key considerations in choosing between Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles, with each offering distinct advantages and challenges in this regard.

Locum Tenens:

  • Locum Tenens provides significant flexibility in terms of choosing assignments, locations, and duration, allowing physicians to explore different clinical environments and lifestyles.
  • This role is particularly appealing to those seeking a change of scenery, new clinical experiences, or a break from the routine of permanent positions.
  • The ability to take extended breaks between assignments is a unique feature of Locum Tenens, offering a balance between professional commitments and personal pursuits or rest periods.
  • However, the nature of Locum Tenens work can sometimes lead to challenges in maintaining consistent personal routines and family life, especially with frequent relocations.

Per Diem:

  • Per Diem roles offer the flexibility to accept work on an as-needed basis, providing significant control over one’s schedule. This is particularly beneficial for those balancing clinical work with family responsibilities, further education, or other personal interests.
  • The ability to decline shifts without long-term consequences allows Per Diem workers to tailor their work schedules to their personal lives, a level of flexibility rarely found in full-time positions.
  • However, this flexibility can sometimes lead to unpredictability in income and work hours, which may be a consideration for those requiring more consistent earnings.
  • Per Diem work is often ideal for those in transitional career phases, such as new graduates, those nearing retirement, or individuals exploring different career paths within healthcare.

In summary, while Locum Tenens offers the allure of higher compensation and adventurous work experiences, it requires adaptability to frequent changes. Per Diem, on the other hand, provides unparalleled day-to-day flexibility, suited for those prioritizing control over their work-life balance.

In-Depth Comparison

Contractual and Legal Considerations

When embarking on a career in either Locum Tenens or Per Diem roles, understanding the contractual and legal aspects is crucial. These elements not only define the scope of work but also safeguard the rights and responsibilities of the healthcare professional.

Locum Tenens:

  • Contracts for Locum Tenens positions are typically more complex, outlining specifics such as duration, compensation, benefits, and termination clauses.
  • These contracts often include malpractice insurance coverage, which is vital given the temporary and varied nature of the assignments.
  • It’s important for Locum Tenens physicians to thoroughly review contract details regarding liability coverage, especially tail insurance, which covers claims filed after the contract period ends.
  • Negotiating an “out clause” can provide an escape route in case the assignment does not meet the physician’s expectations or if unforeseen circumstances arise.

Per Diem:

  • Per Diem contracts are generally more straightforward, focusing on hourly rates and shift requirements.
  • These contracts may not always offer benefits like health insurance or retirement plans, reflecting the non-committal nature of Per Diem work.
  • Legal considerations for Per Diem workers often revolve around understanding the implications of not being a full-time employee, especially in terms of job security and benefits.
  • Per Diem workers should be aware of their rights regarding workplace safety and the facility’s policies on handling workplace incidents or disputes.

Both Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles require a clear understanding of the contractual terms to ensure that the arrangements align with the healthcare professional’s expectations and legal rights.

Career Impact and Professional Development

The impact on one’s career and opportunities for professional development vary significantly between Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles. Each path offers unique prospects and challenges that can shape a healthcare professional’s career trajectory.

Locum Tenens:

  • Locum Tenens work can significantly enhance a physician’s resume, showcasing their adaptability and breadth of experience across various clinical settings.
  • These roles often provide opportunities for networking and building professional relationships, which can lead to future job offers or collaborations.
  • Continuous learning is a natural part of Locum Tenens work, as physicians are exposed to different practices, patient demographics, and healthcare systems.
  • However, the transient nature of Locum Tenens might lead to perceptions of a less stable career path, which could be a consideration for some employers.

Per Diem:

  • Per Diem work allows healthcare professionals to maintain clinical skills without the commitment of a full-time position, which can be ideal during career transitions or personal life changes.
  • These roles can offer a balance between professional work and pursuing further education or certifications, contributing to long-term career growth.
  • The flexibility of Per Diem work can also enable healthcare professionals to explore different areas of interest within the medical field, potentially leading to new career paths.
  • However, the lack of consistent long-term professional engagement in one setting might limit exposure to certain career advancement opportunities typically available in full-time roles.

In conclusion, both Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles offer distinct pathways for career development and professional growth. Understanding the nuances of each can help healthcare professionals make informed decisions about their career trajectories.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the main difference between Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles?

The primary distinction lies in the nature of work. Locum Tenens positions involve temporarily filling vacancies, often with assignments in various locations, while Per Diem roles are day-to-day, typically within a healthcare worker’s local community. Locum Tenens is about replacing, while Per Diem is about daily flexibility.

How do compensation and benefits compare between Locum Tenens and Per Diem?

Locum Tenens generally offers higher pay due to travel and the temporary nature of the work. It may include additional benefits like housing allowances and travel reimbursements. Per Diem, on the other hand, offers hourly pay rates without long-term benefits like health insurance or retirement plans.

What about the flexibility and work-life balance in these roles?

Both roles offer flexibility, but Locum Tenens provides flexibility in choosing assignments and durations. Per Diem offers control over work schedules and is ideal for balancing personal life and professional commitments.

Are there legal and contractual considerations to keep in mind?

Yes, Locum Tenens contracts tend to be more complex, covering aspects like compensation, benefits, and malpractice insurance. Per Diem contracts are simpler, focusing on hourly rates and shift requirements. Legal considerations differ based on employment status and job security.

How do these roles impact a healthcare professional’s career?

Locum Tenens can enhance a resume, provide networking opportunities, and offer continuous learning experiences. Per Diem allows maintaining clinical skills while pursuing further education. Both can lead to unique career paths.


In the world of healthcare staffing, the choice between Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles hinges on individual preferences and career goals.

Locum Tenens offers a chance to embrace adventure, work across diverse settings, and earn higher compensation, making it an attractive option for those seeking professional growth and exploration.

On the other hand, Per Diem roles provide unparalleled flexibility, allowing healthcare professionals to balance their work with personal pursuits, further education, or family responsibilities.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal priorities. Whether you’re an adventurous physician looking for new challenges or a healthcare worker seeking work-life balance, both Locum Tenens and Per Diem roles have their place in the dynamic world of healthcare. Understanding the differences and considering your own aspirations can guide you towards the path that best aligns with your career and lifestyle choices.

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