What Does a Locum Tenens Nurse Practitioner Do?

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Locum tenens nurse practitioner looks at her hospital schedule

Many aspiring registered nurses (RNs) may not know what a locum tenens nurse practitioner (NP) does. The locum tenens definition comes from Latin, meaning “one holding a place,” an excellent description for a temporary position. In nursing terms, the locum tenens definition refers to any nursing professional who substitutes for another, usually for a short period of time. Locum tenens NPs are highly skilled, having earned an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing. They move seamlessly between facilities and provide efficient, high-quality care to patients.

A Day in the Life of a Locum Tenens NP

The daily routine of a locum tenens NP is like any NP, except that a locum tenens NP typically spends a few days becoming familiar with a new facility’s systems and rules. For example, upon arrival at a location, a locum tenens NP may take part in an orientation that could last from one day to a week. In many cases, especially if a locum tenens NP has worked at the facility before, the nurse may have no orientation before meeting with patients. After the settling-in period, locum tenens NPs play the same role as traditional NPs, meeting with patients, analyzing and diagnosing illness, developing treatment plans, ordering diagnostic tests, prescribing medication or therapy, and keeping detailed records.

The Path to Employment

The path to employment as a locum tenens NP in advanced care involves meeting certain education requirements, gaining work experience, and acquiring certifications. Completing these steps will allow the professional to move between facilities and departments. Many nurses may prefer locum tenens work for more pay, travel, or schedule flexibility.

Education Requirements

To be eligible for locum tenens NP work, professionals need to have a master’s in nursing. As noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners must complete an accredited master’s program that includes both in-class and clinical components. The majority of nurse practitioner programs prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, although there are exceptions for some nurses with an associate degree, diploma in nursing, or equivalent education outside of nursing, such as a health science degree.


In addition to fulfilling the educational requirements, aspiring NPs with an eye on locum tenens work need to obtain the standard nurse practitioner certifications and licenses. They must pass a national certification exam as well as a second exam specific to an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) role. Both the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) administer tests to certify professionals as nurse practitioners. Certification is necessary to show proficiency in an advanced role and is often required for state licensure.

Work Experience

Locum tenens NPs are considered independent contractors. They can apply for work on behalf of themselves or through a locum tenens agency. Working as an established NP at a set location serves as the experience one needs to become a locum tenens NP. Unlike a stationary NP, locum tenens NPs gain invaluable work experience with each new location. Because no two locations are exactly the same, locum tenens NPs can continually develop skills. For example, they may learn new technological systems or setting-specific best practices with each work location. As a result, locum tenens NPs often become even more flexible, versatile, and experienced the longer they work, potentially increasing their value as health care professionals.

Job Growth and Potential Salary

The BLS anticipates the employment of NPs, including locum tenens roles, will increase 31% between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the estimated 8% average growth for all jobs.

As of May 2018, NPs make a median annual wage of $107,030, according to the BLS. However, most locum tenens positions pay hourly rates. According to CompHealth, a locum tenens NP may make between $90 and $300 per hour, depending on one’s specialty, which is around the same as a full-time salary — but without insurance benefits in most cases. For example, locum tenens providers who specialize in family medicine earn between $90 and $125 per hour, while those who specialize in emergency medicine make between $160 and $300 per hour.

Areas with the Highest Employment

Locum tenens positions are available all across the country, from small, underserved communities to big cities with large medical facilities. It is difficult to determine the areas with the highest rates of locum tenens employment, as some positions last only hours or a few days.

However, the BLS notes that as of May 2018, NPs, including locum tenens workers, are mostly employed in New York (13,710 jobs), California (13,420 jobs), Texas (12,020 jobs), Florida (10,590 jobs), and Ohio (7,510 jobs). Physician offices (84,720 jobs), general medical and surgical hospitals (44,160 jobs), and outpatient care centers (17,270 jobs) are some of the most common employers of NPs.

Beyond the Locum Tenens Definition

Locum tenens NPs do more than fill in for other nurses. They are flexible and can become skilled in the best practices, systems, and operational protocols at many facilities across states and even the country. The first step toward becoming a locum tenens NP is earning a master’s degree, usually an online Master of Science in Nursing, which helps students develop the skills to pursue a traveling position. To learn more about how an MSN can help prepare a locum tenens hopeful for success, contact Regis College today.

Recommended Readings:
5 Ways to Earn a Better Nurse Practitioner Salary
Nursing Abroad: Career Opportunities All Over the World
Why Nursing Values and Beliefs Are Important to Achieving Career Success

American Association of Nurse Practitioners
American Nurses Credentialing Center
CompHealth, “How Does Locum Tenens Pay and Salary Work?”
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing
Regis College, Welcome to Regis College Online
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics: Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners