Focusing on the positives and embracing new opportunities
Locum optometrist, Rebecca Rushton, shares her experiences as a locum in a new city when the pandemic hit
I decided to become a locum around six years after I qualified as I wanted a bit more flexibility. I wanted to be able to take holidays more easily. But also, I wanted a bit more freedom with my diary for the times when I may want to work a bit more to earn a little more money.I admit, I like locuming much more than I thought I would. The pandemic aside, it is a lot more secure than I thought it would be. Initially I thought that I’d struggle to get work, but that’s not been the case. The variety and the different places that I have worked is much greater than I ever thought it would be. I’m a lot happier than I expected.
There are two things that I don’t like about locuming. The first is doing my own accounting and invoicing; I’m always worried that I’m going to make a mistake. The second is that, being a locum, I don’t get to follow up on patients, particularly those who I have referred, and I don’t get to see their results. You can miss those human connections as a locum.
The variety and the difference places that I have worked is much greater than I ever thought it would be
An experience that has been memorable for me as a locum due to the nature of the role was when I saw a patient in Southampton for a refractive surgery consultation and for whatever reason I needed him to see his optician. Four days later I was locuming in Winchester and the same patient was there. It was such a coincidence.
The pandemic presented at quite an awkward time for me; I had just moved back to Southampton about 10 days before the first lockdown. I had a few dates in my diary and was obviously looking to book more. But everything just stopped completely in March 2020. I was without any work whatsoever from March until roughly the beginning of July. Bookings started to pick up over the summer and I was able to make new connections and work in more places. I was pretty busy again by September/October. However, in early January it cooled off again until early March. Since then I have been working solidly. It’s been ridiculously busy.
Lockdowns can be a scary and nerve-racking time, but you have to have faith that one day, somebody will need your services again and it is just a question of how you are going to survive between now and then. Most clinics, even now, are working at reduced capacity due to social distancing, cleaning and changing personal protective equipment (PPE) between patients. In my mind, there should be less demand for locums, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.
You have to have faith that one day, somebody will need your services again
When I went back into practice after the first lockdown there were lots of adjustments: PPE, lenses steaming up, and having to do a modified test. Trying to do everything you need to do is stressful, particularly while adjusting to living in a pandemic and thinking about how patients could be sick but asymptomatic. There are also so many new rules and regulations in place now; trying to keep on top of those was a challenge at the time as well.
Reflecting on the last 15 months, I have been very lucky and I have managed to find some very interesting new jobs. Two of my new jobs involve working from home, which I never thought that as an optometrist I would ever be able to do. The first is working for a refractive surgery company doing consultations online; I love refractive surgery so it’s an absolute delight and a complete dream role. The other is helping to set up a contact lens website, acting as general optometric adviser and checking the content to ensure it is clinically sound.
• As told to Emily McCormick.