Latin for “holding one’s place,” locum tenens is temporary staffing by healthcare providers. The locum tenens and travel nursing industries have been around for over 150 years, with an important but rarely understood history. This article offers a historical look at locum tenens and travel nursing and encourages clinicians to consider these ever-evolving career paths.
As early as 1850, records indicate that physicians and nurses were traveling through the Wild West to provide to aid to frontier families. They often traveled from town to town, offering what care they could. As you know, the mid-1800s predated germ theory, resulting in many deaths by infection. Soon thereafter, the Civil War broke out. During the Civil War, nurses were assigned to forts to provide care for soldiers and their families. Travel nursing exploded in importance and popularity.
Mobile X-ray units were first deployed in World War I, necessitating a group of nurses and other technicians to travel with them. At the conclusion of the war, the United States Treasury opened the first veterans’ hospital and recruited clinicians from across the country to join in providing healthcare to returning soldiers. Finally, in 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed an executive order to establish the Veterans Administration, which still uses many locum tenens providers.
Locum tenens and traveling clinicians aren’t limited to the United States. Throughout locum tenens history, these temporary providers have provided medical care all across the world. In 1968, the first group of traveling physicians and nurses arrived in Biafra, Nigeria. Only three years later, this group of clinicians established the organization Doctors Without Borders.
Temporary healthcare clinicians—physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants—have long provided care to rural America. As early as 1911, the U.S. government allocated funding for clinicians to travel to American Indian tribes. Today, many rural clinics, hospitals, and emergency rooms rely heavily on locum tenens and other traveling providers.
The first locum tenens staffing agency was established in 1979; 35 years later, there are at least 25 companies comprising a $2 billion industry. After President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense allocated $50 million to support and recruit locum tenens clinicians to work in Veterans Affairs hospitals. By 2002, approximately 26,000 nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians were working locum tenens. Today, that number has reached 40,000. Additionally, there are about 26,000 traveling RNs.
Locum tenens has a rich and vibrant history dating back to the mid-1800s. Locum tenens and travel nursing positions offer clinicians flexibility, independence and unique clinical opportunities, not to mention the often much higher pay. If you’re interested in learning more about locum tenens and travel nursing opportunities, search for nurse practitioner locum tenens positions now.