From Liverpool to London locuming
Locum optometrist, Yee Ting Liu, talks to OT about the benefits of being her own boss and how a patient who returned to say thank you reminded her why she is an optometrist
Yee Ting Liu
01 November 2021
About YeeQualified: 2013
Previous roles: Resident optometrist in a multiple
It is really daunting taking the leap into locuming. When I look back, I was probably booking two days a week initially, so it was quite different from being full-time. Slowly it built up and as it did I was given affirmation about my abilities as a clinician – the direct feedback from my employers after a locum shift did this. It is a really nice feeling when you are invited back to a practice again.
Having my own schedule and being my own boss is the thing I most like about being a locum. Plus, the flexibility I have is a number one priority. If I want to take a break, I can, and if I want to work hard at a given point, I also can. Being able to manage my own time is great.
I did not receive any government support during the pandemic. At times all of my work was cancelled and I felt like I would be the last person that practices would require when things opened up. It was very stressful
The thing I least like about locuming is last minute cancellations – you can’t predict these, but they are rare. Sometimes clinics just aren’t busy enough. I think this was felt by many locums as we were coming out of lockdowns, when footfall couldn’t be predicted. The other thing is getting bombarded by emails and messages about potential work. I often get email notifications from services that I have signed up to for work in locations that are far outside the catchment area I have stated. But I shouldn’t complain as it means that there is always work available.
Just before the pandemic, I relocated from Liverpool to London and had to build up my locum network again. I moved because I wanted to explore areas of the UK that I haven’t seen before. From time-to-time I go home to Liverpool for a week or so and can locum when I’m there, which is another part of the flexibility that locuming affords me that I enjoy.
When I feel that I have really helped someone in their journey and have been their first port of call, it reminds me why I am here and why I became an optometrist
During the pandemic, I have been really fortunate not to have caught COVID-19. However, I have many friends and family who have had close encounters and therefore over the last 18 months there have been occasions where I have had to cancel work in order to self-isolate. This is inconvenient for everyone and highlights job insecurity, which you have to consider when you become a locum. Unlike resident optometrists who could be furloughed, I did not receive any government support during the pandemic. At times all of my work was cancelled and I felt like I would be the last person that practices would require when things opened up. It was very stressful.
I will always remember when a patient called into the practice I was locuming at to say thank you. I had seen her previously for an eye exam; she was 30 years old and had children and presented to me because her vision had deteriorated quite rapidly. After an initial examination, I took her to a different practice down the road that had an optical coherence tomography machine so I could better determine what might be wrong. In the end I made an urgent referral as things just weren’t making sense. It was later confirmed that she had a cranial pharyngioma, a brain tumour. She has since had the tumour removed. She came in with flowers to say thank you, which was lovely. Things like that really stick in my mind. When I feel that I have really helped someone in their journey and have been their first port of call, it reminds me why I am here and why I became an optometrist.
Part of Liu’s locum work has been with Hakim Group, who has an extensive network of independent practices, with locum availability across the UK and Ireland.
A day in the life of Yee Ting7.15am: I wake up usually around 7.15am and will always double-check where I’m going that day and the route that I will be taking in case there is traffic or line closures. Even if it is a practice that I am very familiar with, journeys to work can be unpredictable.
9am: When I arrive in a practice, I say hello to everyone on the team, especially if I’m working somewhere new. In a place I have visited before, I may have a catch up with someone I know. I then go to the test room to make sure everything is turned on and working ahead of my first patient arriving. It can regularly happen that at least one machine or piece of equipment is either missing or not working, and you adapt yourself in that scenario.
1pm: At lunch I will go out for a walk, otherwise it’s a very sedentary job. I will buy lunch and check out the local area and support local businesses if I can. Then I will usually spend some time with the staff as it’s nice to build relationships at work.
5pm: At the end of the day, I make sure that I have done all my referrals and written up all the required notes; I don’t want to end up in a panic and remember something two hours later when I’m at home. In the past I’ve forgotten to pack up my Volk lens and had to go back for it, so nowadays I double and triple-check that I have packed up all my own equipment before I leave. It’s very frustrating, but easily done.
Ad hoc: I do my invoices at the end of the month as I find it easier to keep track that way. I use my evenings to check any emails and do any online educational webinars, as well as unwind.
• As told to Emily McCormick.