Locum optometrist, Dr Valarie Simpson Jerome, on why she became a locum and what her daily routine involves
Dr Valarie Simpson Jerome
07 December 2019
7am: My day starts out with me looking at my phone to make sure that the practice I am meant to be working in has not messaged me to say the clinic has been cancelled or that there are no patients for the day and I am not needed.
7.10am: When I first started locuming, a percentage of my time would be taken up securing and booking work. However, I have now built up a reputation so I don’t have to do this so much. I am a member of a WhatsApp group for a multiple, so I check that each morning or two to see if there are any places nearby that need locum work for the week or month ahead.
Previous roles: Therapeutic optometrist (US), low vision specialist and practice owner
Based: Newbury, West Berkshire.
8am: When I leave the house, I always take two bags with me for work. I am very particular and I like to use my own equipment, even if I know that the practice where I am locuming has it. So, if I have no messages, I gather my two bags together, drop my little one off to nursery and travel to the practice where I am locuming that day.
8.50am: I like to arrive around 10 minutes early so I can settle in, turn the computer on, log in and set up. During this routine I will probably have to re-arrange the testing room a little and tidy up if it’s needed. I like to get everything set up and ready to go before my first patient arrives.
I like to arrive, not on time, but around 10 minutes early so I can settle in, turn the computer on, log in and set up
2pm (if not in practice): I have to be disciplined and do my invoicing once a week. I set myself time on a day when I am not in practice and stick to it. Most people pay regularly and on time, but on occasion there will be a lost invoice that I have to chase and that does take time. You do have to budget time to do this admin in order to stay on top of it or I could see it easily eating into too much of your personal time.
You do have to budget time to do this admin in order to stay on top of it
5.30pm: At the end of the day, I always return the testing room to how it was before I arrived. If the trial frame was in a particular place, for example, I will put it back there before I leave. I also always make sure that I speak to the practice manager or whoever is in charge that day to say goodbye and confirm any future work.
When did you decide to become a locum and why?When I moved to the UK from the US in 2009, my first job was as a resident optometrist and, to be brutally honest, it was the worst job that I have ever had. I thought, ‘I can’t work like this and be a sales person, compromising my clinical and ethical standards just to sell more glasses.’ I moved into a different setting where there was less commercial pressure and later, in 2014, I opted to become a locum.
I decided to become a locum as it gave me the freedom to choose where I worked and, if I didn’t like a practice, I didn’t have to go back as I was not tied to a contract. It was a bold move. I didn't ask anyone for advice before I became a locum. As a result, I learned as I went. From chatting to other locums, I soon found out that I was charging a lot less for my time and I had to adjust my day rate. That was difficult with some clients.
What advice would you give an optometrist considering becoming a locum?Don’t be a clock in, clock out locum. Care about the patient as if you were going to see them the next time they were in. My motto is treat people as you treat yourself; I apply this to my patient care. You will enjoy your work a lot more if you live by this motto too.
What do you most like about being a locum?What I most like about being a locum is the flexibility it offers. I can choose where I want to work and where I don’t. I like being able to do things my way, within GOC regulations of course. Furthermore, if I want to work more at a given time, I can. And if I want to reduce my hours, I can too, depending on the time of year.
What do you least like about being a locum?What I least like about being a locum is that you are disposable and can be dropped at any time through no fault of your own. It can also be a lonely way to practise at times. You won’t necessarily be working alongside another optometrist and therefore you don't always have someone to bounce ideas off and get support from – locums are not normally invited to the Christmas party either.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first became a locum?Over the years I have learned that in many multiples and independent chains, you are dispensable. It doesn't matter if you are the best optometrist that has come through the practice door, or that you have little to no remakes. For some companies, if your conversion rate is not quite what they expect it to be, or if they think that you are too expensive, you are out and someone else is in.
- As told to Emily McCormick.