What Is A Locum Tenens Doctor And Why Should I Care?


“Locum tenens” is a term used for physicians who work on a temporary basis, or on an as-needed basis, at hospitals and health facilities. The relationship between the locum tenens physician and the hospital is temporary and may last a month, a couple of weeks or even just for a day. There is nothing inherently wrong with locum tenens physicians, but this type of traveling doctor may have a reason for being on the move.

I handled a medical malpractice case arising from the death of an Emergency Room patient who was discharged to home by a “locum tenens” physician despite classic signs of a heart attack and abnormalities on an EKG. Rather than admitting the patient, the locum tenens ER physician sent him home where he died two hours later. The story does not end there.

During the course of the malpractice lawsuit, I learned that this physician had his medical license suspended or revoked in several states, as far away as Alaska and Florida. It turned out that the locum tenens physician moved his medical practice from state to state as he encountered licensing problems in various states and he finally ended up at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, New York under a locum tenens arrangement with the hospital. No one knew (certainly not his patients) that this doctor had been sued many times and sanctioned by the medical licensing authorities in other states.

The locum tenens physician adroitly came to New York, where the licensing authority was ignorant of his prior history of malpractice and incompetence. Predictably, the locum tenens continued his pattern of incompetence in Hudson, New York by discharging a 69 year old male with classic signs of an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) and an abnormal EKG.

Two years later, the New York Post featured a story about “BAD DOCTORS” and this locum tenens physician’s photograph was on the front page. Of course, by then, this locum tenens physician was off to a new state where he could escape his past problems.

Keep in mind that there may be a reason that a locum tenens physician does not stay in one place.