“Make sure you've got a big network”
Sumita Mistry has been working as a locum for seven years, interspersed with being a resident optometrist. Here, she tells OT about the value of her optical relationships
20 May 2022
To make sure you get to know, and work for, a wide variety of companies. Also, be prepared for your days to get cancelled. The most annoying part is when someone cancels last minute. Most companies are pretty good and don't really tend to do that, but still make sure you've got a big enough network that you're not relying on one company or one store, and be prepared to travel a little bit further afield if you do get dropped last minute. Because I have such a big network of people I used to work for, if was dropped, I'd normally get a text from someone else asking if I was available. Name: Sumita Mistry Location: South London Locum for: Seven years
Name: Sumita Mistry
Location: South London
Locum for: Seven years
I realised this…A couple of months into locuming. Later, when the pandemic hit, you could get told that morning that they didn't need you. Locums could not get any work during the pandemic. Even residents who were furloughed were let go. I didn't have any work for three months. I didn't work at all, not one day. It was so hard. I was lucky that I was living at home and not in London at the time, so I wasn't paying rent. If I lived in London, that would have been stressful.
The person who helped me realise this was…I had really good companies that I worked for. I was brought up in Northamptonshire, so I'd either worked as an optical assistant when I was 16 at the local Boots, Specsavers and Vision Express stores, or I'd been locuming for them from when I first became a locum. I had such a good rapport with all the directors and local store managers. I was quite lucky.
It has helped me because…I live in London now. But even if I ever go back to Northampton for a weekend, there's a Specsavers I know that if I messaged saying “hey, do you need a locum?” they could reply saying they do, and I'd be okay. Or if I moved back home permanently, I know I'd be able to locum again, because I know the local stores.
My biggest locum challenge is…I'd only been a locum for nine months when the pandemic first hit, so I didn't have a whole year of books. If you'd just become a locum, you were pretty screwed. I don't think the government dealt with people who were in self-employment very well at that point.
My kitbag essential is…
My Volk lens
As a locum, I’ve adapted my days by…I always make sure I know, for the week, exactly what store I'm in, and how long it's going to take me to get there. If it's somewhere that's a bit further afield, or somewhere that I've not been before, even if it says it'll take me half an hour I'll leave 45 minutes so I get there 15 minutes early, just to get myself familiar with the store, the equipment, and the room.
Practices can make life easier for locums by…When we get to practice, show us how to log into your systems, because every system is a bit different. Have someone who says, "This is how you log in, this is your username, this is your password. This is your equipment." Show the locum the room, to make sure they're familiar with everything.
Also, tell us if you pre-screen, and if so, what you do in pre-screening. For example, if I wanted to do fields, do you do fields on everyone over 40? Or, how do you do a visual field test, or do you just do it upon my request? All stores work differently.
When you're seeing patients back-to-back, you do physically need a break. You need a minute to reset
Sometimes when you have a resident and a locum in, and the resident is free and the locum could have three back-to-back eye tests, they might give the locum the next one too. When you're seeing patients back-to-back, you do physically need a break. You need a minute to reset.
Also, I might have paperwork or something to follow up on, or an emergency triage. Just because you're not in front of a patient, you're not necessarily free. I've got reviews to do, I've got my referrals to do; I haven't finished doing the paperwork on this patient because there was another patient waiting. That's how I feel like mistakes happen, because the optometrist hasn't finished doing their notes. God forbid something got missed or didn't get seen, and then the next thing you know, there's a complaint. And as far as the GOC are concerned, if it's not written down it's not done.
One change I’ve seen whilst working as a locum is…
It might be because I live in London now, and I used to get paid a lot more in Northampton, but I feel like the rates have gone down. Sometimes I don't feel like you're valued as much as a locum anymore. I think sometimes people think “Oh, you're a locum. You don't really deserve a lunch break. We're paying you for the day. So just get on with it.” We aren’t getting paid over lunch; we do still deserve a full lunch break, and we should still be allowed to leave on time.
My favourite thing about locuming is…
The flexibility in terms of being able to travel. That is the major reason I did it, because I want to travel the world more, and I didn't want to have to tell someone I was going on holiday and ask if I was allowed time off. So that is one major plus – you have the flexibility of being able to up and leave whenever you feel like it.
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