What is a locum doctor?


Many people may have heard the term locum in a medical or healthcare context, and wondered what it meant. If you’ve ever thought about the concept of becoming a locum doctor and wanted to learn more about what it entails, or if you’re simply curious about what a locum doctor does, you’re in the right place.

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Let’s take a look at what a locum doctor is.

What does locum mean?

First things first – what does the term locum doctor actually mean? The word locum comes from the Latin phrase locum tenens, which means “place holder”. A locum is a person who temporarily fulfills the duties of another. A locum doctor is therefore a doctor who covers for another doctor who is on leave.

Are locum doctors and travel doctors the same thing?

Locum doctors may also be referred to as traveling doctors, since they often accept placements in different parts of the country or even the world, allowing them to experience new places while working in local hospitals or clinics.

However, locum doctors are not to be confused with travel doctors, a term which refers to physicians that work in the field of travel medicine. Travel doctors specialise in health issues that relate to travel between different countries, including illnesses particular to certain parts of the world, specific health risks that are involved with travel, and any vaccinations that may be required prior to travel.

Why do hospitals use locum doctors?

In the healthcare industry, continuity of service is of the utmost importance. However, like any other profession, doctors and physicians still need to take a break once in a while, and like any other human being, can also get sick!

In particular, hospitals use locum doctors to fill gaps in rosters due to planned leave, which can include vacations as well as work-related leave (such as attending conferences), as well as unplanned leave, for instance where a permanent doctor falls ill. Hospitals may also recruit doctors in a locum capacity while they search for permanent staff, or if they are located in remote or rural areas that can find it difficult to attract permanent doctors.

Locum doctors are incredibly useful for hospitals to ensure that they can continue to provide medical services for those in need, even when their regular doctors are on leave.

What are the pros and cons of working as a locum doctor?

Working as a locum doctor has a range of advantages, but like any role, also comes with a few downsides. Let’s start with the positive aspects.


The biggest draw card for many locum doctors that take the leap into locum work is the opportunity to travel, which allows them to experience different parts of Australia and beyond while continuing to earn money and advance their career. Working as a locum doctor can take you to new places that you otherwise may never have discovered, from exciting cities to remote villages across the country and even overseas.

It’s truly a great way to travel without needing to take time out from your job, and you’ll usually have your pick of destinations to choose from – plus, your employers will often pay for your travel and accommodation costs, too.


Australia is well known for its attractive work-life balance, and working as a locum doctor can help you make the most of flexible work arrangements. You’ll be able to choose when and where you’d like to work, giving you the opportunity to switch between part-time and full-time hours depending on your commitments outside of work, take up an extra shift here and there on top of your permanent job to help you gain experience in different areas, or simply design your own work schedule from the ground up to perfectly suit your lifestyle.

Variety and experience

When you accept locum placements in new locations and disciplines, you’ll be expanding your professional horizons and gaining exposure to new and exciting areas of work that you may otherwise never have encountered. Many locum doctors end up taking on new challenges that they might not have considered previously, and you’ll definitely develop a fresh perspective on your career by opening yourself up to new experiences and interactions. It’s a great way to ensure that you never get bored at work!

Plus, if you’re considering a permanent change in environment, such as switching between the public and private sector or into a different role within your field, what better way to know for sure that it’s the right move than to try it out on a locum basis first?

Career development

As with any profession, the more experience you can gain in different roles and environments, the better for your professional development and potential career options. Working for years on end in the same practice or hospital can get a little stale, and will certainly limit your options for exposure to new areas and opportunities. Locum doctor work, however, will ensure that you’re constantly learning new skills and facing new challenges, while gaining experience in different environments that will be sure to help your career progression.

Financial benefits

Of course, any locum doctor role is likely to come with an attractive remuneration package, but locum work in particular can offer incredibly lucrative financial benefits when compared to permanent salaries. As a locum doctor, you’ll be filling in for other doctors often at short notice or in urgent care capacities, and hiring managers will be willing to pay substantial amounts to ensure that gaps are filled as quickly as possible.

Okay, it all sounds pretty great so far – but what’s not so good about working as a locum doctor?

Lack of stability

The biggest hurdle standing in the way of many doctors that consider taking on locum work is the lack of stability that locum work can entail. Locum placements can range in duration from a few days to several months or more, and usually come up with very little notice, which can be somewhat stressful if you’re someone who likes to be able to plan well in advance. You might also be required to move fairly frequently, which can make the locum doctor lifestyle less appealing to those with partners or families, unless you restrict your placements to a certain geographical area.

Availability of work

There will be times when things are quieter and locum placements aren’t coming up as often, which means that you may need to compromise on either the location of your next placement, or the role itself, in order to maintain a steady flow of work. However, the silver lining is that as a locum doctor, nothing is permanent, so if you do end up in an area you’re not enjoying as much, it won’t last forever, and you can simply start looking forward to your next placement. Additionally, if you’re working with an agency, your chances of being able to secure regular work in your preferred locations and environments will be greatly improved.

Income irregularity

Naturally, locum work doesn’t come with a standard salary package in the same way as a permanent doctor role does, and this means that your income may be somewhat irregular as you switch between placements. However, this risk is often outweighed by the higher pay rates that locum placements tend to offer – it all depends on your own circumstances.

How are locum doctors paid?

Locum doctors tend to be paid based on either a set hourly rate, or a set daily rate. Hourly rates for locum doctors in Australia can be anywhere from $120 to $400 per hour, which makes locum doctors one of the best paying professions in the country. This corresponds to a full-time equivalent salary that can fall anywhere in the range of $250,000 to $750,000 or even more, depending on each doctor’s experience and specialisations. The location of the hospital or clinic can also influence the pay rate for its locum doctors – generally speaking, rural and remote hospitals will pay more than those in major cities.

How do you find work as a traveling doctor?

The easiest way to find work as a locum doctor is by registering with a healthcare recruitment agency. Most clinics and hospitals that utilise locum doctors will work exclusively with recruitment agencies to fill roles as they arise, and these agencies are always looking for high quality locum doctor talent to add to their pool of candidates, to ensure that they’re able to supply their clients with the resources they need.

When you register with a healthcare recruitment agency, you’ll work with a team of recruitment specialists that are experienced in the medical industry and will be able to match your skills, experience and career goals with the perfect locum placements across Australia, while providing support at every step of the way.

How do you compare staffing agencies?

There are many medical and healthcare recruitment and staffing agencies out there, so how do you compare your options? Here are a few things to consider.

  • Variety of roles – a good medical recruitment agency will offer a range of medical and allied health jobs in both the public and private sectors.
  • Specialisations – if you’re looking for locum doctor work in a particular specialisation, such as Psychiatry or Anaesthetics, make sure the agencies you’re considering offer support for finding roles in that area.
  • Exclusive jobs – a sign that a medical recruitment agency is worth registering with is if they offer access to exclusive jobs.
  • Locations – if you’re hoping to find locum work in a different state or even a different country, an agency that only offers placements in your home state might not be what you’re looking for.
  • Experience – it’s preferable to register with an agency that offers experienced and knowledgeable consultants that have been in the business for a while, so that you can be sure you’ll receive the support and expertise you’re needing.
  • Testimonials – see if you can find online reviews or candidate testimonials, as these can provide insight into the quality of services and standard of roles offered by a particular agency.

How do I get started?

If you’re interested in learning more about working as a locum doctor in Australia, download a free copy of our locum guide. It covers all of the different medical locum roles across the country, and how you can access these, as well as salaries, registration procedures, and the support that we’ll provide as you begin your exciting new journey. If you have any questions, fill out our contact form and one of our friendly medical recruitment specialists will be in touch.