Having control of your career choices
Optometrist and AOP Awards 2020 Locum of the Year, Prinal Patel, on her preparation routines and the importance of getting to know the team
25 April 2020
Previous roles: Multiples, domiciliary, small optical groups and a glaucoma optometrist
Based: Surrey and West Sussex.
The night before: The night before a locum day I will check the location of where I am working, specifically the route that I will take and how long the journey is. I will also plan parking, locating two car parks that will be convenient. I then pack my bag and make sure that I have all of the equipment that I need. I take my own set of patient leaflets that I may wish to share with patients during the day – as a locum, you don’t always know what kind of practice you are going into and how tidy the testing room might be, so I make sure that I am as organised as possible with my own things. I also pack my lunch and iron my clothes in preparation.
7am: My alarm generally goes off an hour before I need to leave for work. I am a bit of a snoozer, hence why I try to get everything ready the night before. I will get up, double-check my route to make sure there are no unexpected traffic delays, get ready and go.
I think the relationship between the locum and the pre-screener is a really important one as pre-screening is a delegated task and I want to be sure that they are confident and capable
8.30am: If I start at 9am, I try to get into the area for around 8.30am so I can grab a coffee and take a look around – it means that I don’t have to rush around. I’ll aim to arrive in practice 15 minutes before I am due to start so that there is time to get shown around and meet the team. After I am shown to my room, I like to set up and make sure that everything is clean and tidy. I carry medical wipes with me and wipe down all of the equipment before the day begins. I also check any solutions and minims, and throw away anything that is contaminated or out of date.
How has the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak affected you as a locum?As practices have taken the decision to close (as advised by optical bodies), this has meant my locum days have been cancelled by employers. Emergency eye care that is still available in some practices is usually run by the resident optometrist or the owner who is an optometrist.
How do you feel about the current support package that the government is offering for self-employed?Unfortunately, many full-time locums will not benefit from such schemes due to the £50,000 trading profit cap. This is unfortunate given that no cap has been placed for the employed. Given that locums get no sick pay, holiday pay, professional fees paid etc this ‘help’ from the government is not realistic.
How have you adapted to the challenges that COVID-19 has posed?I am currently using this time during ‘lockdown’ to collect CET points and take part in webinars, etc. I am awaiting for my Professional Certificate in Medical Retina exam, so I am also using this time to revise.
9.15am: Patients normally begin to arrive from 9.15am, meaning that I also have time to speak to the pre-screener and check what tests I can request. I am quite strict on pre-screening as I like my clinics to run on time, so I make staff aware of that and highlight how we can support each other throughout the day. I think the relationship between the locum and the pre-screener is a really important one as pre-screening is a delegated task and I want to be sure that they are confident and capable. Gathering this information before my first patient makes the day as efficient as possible.
If the practice has a locum folder, which is highly recommended, I will make sure that I read this through – it usually contains information about referrals, shared care schemes and local hospital department details. I find these folders invaluable when a practice does have one as they generally contain all of the information I may need during the day.
1pm: Having been testing all morning, I think it’s really important to get outside and get some fresh air during my lunch break. I love the outdoors so I will always try to go for a stroll around the area. My routine tends to involve eating my packed lunch, catching up on any admin required from the morning and then going out for a walk. I also try to check in on staff to make sure that they feel the morning ran ok and to see if there is anything they would like done differently. I think it’s really important to work well with the team and I always find that they appreciate being asked this question. As a locum you are an optometrist who is filling in for someone who would be there regularly and therefore you should adapt and adopt to their role.
5pm: After my last patient, I double-check that all of the tests and referrals that I would expect to have been done have been. I will then make sure that I leave the room tidy and clean for the next optometrist. I say goodbye to the team and head home.
I also try to check in on staff to make sure that they feel the morning ran ok and to see if there is anything they would like done differently…they appreciate being asked this question
Ad hoc: When I get home, I have my routine and plan ahead for the following day. However, after this, I try to switch off from work. This may involve going to the gym, cooking and relaxing.
On the administration that is associated with locuming, I leave this to a specific day or two every month. I work on a paper diary and make notes as I go. Setting aside specific days rather than doing this on an evening after a shift works best for me as it gives me the head space I need to relax and unwind day-to-day.
When did you become a locum and why?At the beginning of my career I worked for a multiple. As I realised that I wanted to advance myself and expand my experiences, I began to branch out and try new roles outside of the testing room, including becoming a visiting tutor in the contact lens department at the university I graduated from. Being a locum has allowed me to dip in and out of life in practice. Over the last four years, I have opted to mainly locum in independent practices that have an ethos that I agree with.
What do you most like about locuming?I definitely enjoy the flexibility that locuming offers, as well as meeting new faces and the challenges that the work environment brings on a daily basis. Now I am 10 years qualified, I look back and am happy with the progress I have made within optometry. Being a locum means I can stand on my own and gives me better control of my career choices.
What do you least like about locuming?You tend to miss out on team events that are both work and non-work related. I feel that I particularly miss out on the regular contact that employed staff have with representatives from contact lens and spectacles companies who visit practices to discuss their latest products. However, over the years I have learnt that there is still a benefit of getting in contact with these companies directly and being in email or telephone conversation with them, which allows me to keep up to date and ask any questions that I may have.
What has been your most memorable moment being a locum optometrist?Without a doubt, it has to be winning the AOP Awards 2020 Locum of the Year accolade.
• As told to Emily McCormick.