As with any challenging, exciting role, there are pressures associated with being a locum. Whether these are pressures that you put on yourself, or those that come from external forces, learning how to deal with the stress that this can cause is a key part of getting the most out of being a locum and making this kind of lifestyle work for you.
Where does the pressure come from?
As with anything in life there are pros and cons and that’s no different for life as a locum. For example, making the change from a standard contracted role requires an alteration in mindset to appreciate, the flexibility that this kind of lifestyle offers and that can be difficult at first. For others, the stress of a locum role comes from not being part of a team or the comparative lack of employment rights – study leave, sick pay, regular pay rises – although for many the freedom that this comes with is a major bonus. Depending on who you are and what you look for in a job, there will be a mix of exciting new opportunities and some potentially difficult changes too.
Why it’s worth the pressure
The number of locums working in the UK is rising so, despite the pressures mentioned above, many professionals, from GPs to hospital consultants, find the benefits of such a career choice outweigh the pressures.
Flexibility: While being self-employed removes certain safeguards as mentioned above, it also offers flexibility and freedom, whether for study, travel, trying a second career, or caring for loved ones or children.
Variation: Locum positions offer a much broader spread of experience, from the patients, to the conditions, to the way the infrastructures that you work in are managed. This kind of perspective is invaluable and insightful for long-term career development.
Pay: Locum doctors are paid significantly more as an hourly rate than incumbent doctors and overtime is paid too, as opposed to expected as part of the contracted salary. Pay rates continue to rise for locums with figures in 2015 suggesting 6% increases in some parts of the country.
Increased demand: There is more work for locums than there has ever been, from orthopaedic surgeon locums, to A&E registrars and locum GPs. The opportunity to choose your hours, where you work and the days that you work is increasingly broader as demand for skilled locums of all levels and specialties grow.
Perspective: The medical profession demands a lot of its members and many find that time spent as a locum exploring new areas and working different hours in new teams can offer a new perspective and revive drive to return to a contracted position – or explore the flexible life of a locum long term.
Dealing with the pressure
You may find that you naturally slip into a locum role even though it may provide some new challenges. Most pressures that come with becoming a locum are fairly simple to handle with a few coping strategies.
Look after yourself: If you’ve made the switch to being a locum there can be a temptation to take on all the work that you’re offered. Remember that it’s key – for you and for your patients – that you’re happy, well and functioning and have a work/life balance you’re content with.
Ask for feedback: If you find the lack of team structure difficult when it comes to feedback and development then create your own. While you don’t want to add to the work of those around you, most colleagues will be happy to give you feedback on anything that could be improved – as well as what you’re doing well.
Have an admin day: There’s more to organise when you’re a locum, from your own tax affairs to creating your own schedule. Staying on top of all your admin with a day a week when you focus on getting organised will considerably take the pressure off.
Make notes: Many locums find it useful to keep a detailed diary or notebook that records essential details for a job, from where the parking is located to how the internal systems work.
Build some solid support: The main focus for a locum should be the work, so don’t be afraid to build support networks for other areas of your life. An accountant to handle your taxes, a cleaner to look after your home and a good locum agency to find roles can all help to take the pressure off.