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Life as a locum

How the pandemic changed one resident optometrist's career path

Beheshta Hamid discusses becoming a locum as a newly-qualified optometrist and the benefits she gets from increased testing times

eye test animation
Getty/Grivina

I qualified in 2020 and, given the pandemic, it was a strange first year in practice. I found myself not working too much last year. I would have spurts of working full-time, part-time and being on furlough. By October last year, life was getting tiring, so I began to explore my options and consequently looked into locuming. Being a resident optometrist with a multiple and newly-qualified, I was initially unsure as to whether my contract would allow me to locum, but on seeking advice and realising I could, I decided to become an AOP member so that I had the required insurance and could learn more about what was involved.

I signed up to the app Locumotive and out of curiosity booked a couple of half day locum shifts in and around London to see what it was like. It was so very different to what I was used to as a resident optometrist. I went from 25 minutes testing per patient to an hour in the smaller, independent practice that I worked in. I have always preferred to spend quality time with my patients as I think it’s important to be able to get to know their needs and requirements, and build a rapport. Those initial shifts gave me a taste of locuming and I really liked it.

At times during the pandemic, the amount of locuming shifts available varied and as a result I began to travel outside of London for work. I have been up to 65 miles away. I also took days in places like Southend-on-Sea and Leigh-on-Sea. As this work slowly became more regular, I decided to hand in my notice as a resident optometrist and embark on locuming full-time.

It was so very different to what I was used to as a resident optometrist. I went from 25 minutes testing per patient to an hour

 

BeheshtaHamid
Beheshta Hamid
What I most enjoy about being a locum is the extended time that I have with patients in the practice that I choose to work in, as well as the clinical freedom to do the tests that I want to, and really get to know my patients. It gives me a sense of control over everything that I do, and I feel like it’s my patient and my test. While this means that I sometimes have to do everything myself, from pre-testing through to the dispense handover, this is something that I have grown to love as it helps me build rapport with a patient. I want my patients to feel cared for rather than on a standardised journey. When the patient truly feels cared for, they trust you as a clinician.

There are downsides to being a locum and what I least like about locuming is chasing invoices. I am not very comfortable discussing money, so I find having to chase after sending an invoice quite difficult. It also takes up a lot of time. I can get exhausted from the travelling too. As I am relatively new to locuming, I am willing to travel further afield for work. But travelling long distances and sometimes getting stuck on a motorway on the way home, for example, can be tough. In the future I hope to be able to practise closer to home. My next step would be to locum in and around London full-time.

I have always felt comfortable responding to and managing what patients may present with and was not fazed by becoming a locum early in my career

 

While practising during the pandemic has brought many challenges, for me, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have gone into locuming so early on in my career. Locuming is a career path that I previously spoke to colleagues about and it was largely felt that it wasn’t an option you should explore until you were experienced and had been in practice for a few years, which I never really understood. From my perspective, during my pre-reg and early stages of qualification, I was exposed to a wide range of pathology and complex patients. Therefore I have always felt comfortable responding to and managing what patients may present with and was not fazed by becoming a locum early in my career.

 
Beheshta Hamid is currently taking a career break.

  • As told to Emily McCormick.