Life as a locum

“Locuming gives you the opportunity to work on your aspirations”

Pirakalai Manikavasagar, from north west London, on learning her rights as a locum and volunteering outside the testing room


When I started as a locum, I wish I had known…

More about what we should be asking for, including day rates. Most locums are on a WhatsApp group, and it has helped to educate me that I can shorten my shift if required; I can do X, Y and Z. It’s not set as to what hours I have to work and the lunchtimes I have to take. If one day I could do with leaving a bit earlier, I can ask for that. That’s been useful to know, because at the beginning I had no idea.

I realised this…

Only recently, when ghost clinics have been pushed onto me. There have been the times where I’ve had to hold my ground. It’s tough to handle that on top of a fully booked clinic. We will always be reassured by management that it’s fine, that we’re always going to get people who don't turn up – but that’s never the case.

The chat helps to unify us as a group of professionals, but also gives us a chance to voice any opinions or any queries that we have


Statements on ghost clinics were given by the AOP and the General Optical Council, and someone usefully shared a screenshot saying we should be avoiding them. That is useful to pull up and show someone, if required. The chat helps to unify us as a group of professionals, but also gives us a chance to voice any opinions or any queries that we have.

It’s about being aware that some things are beyond what you should be doing, outside your clinic. Being an optometrist, you have to be very good at time management, because you’re seeing patients one after another. When you have things outside of that, it gets a bit difficult because you’re having to do more than what you should be.

The thing that helped me realise this was…

My kit bag essential is…

Locum WhatsApp group

The locum WhatsApp chat, because otherwise I think the job can be quite isolating, especially if you don't have any real contact with other locums. Everyone puts their thoughts and experiences onto the group: ‘this person has cancelled on me today, can I still charge them?’, ‘What are my rights if I’m only given a 10-minute lunch?’ It’s really useful, because these are things that could happen to us in the future, and we’ll be prepped to know what we can do.

My biggest locum challenge is…

Sometimes when it’s off-peak season, for example following the end of the summer holidays, you have periods where you might not be getting enough days. You might have to not work that week, and then pick it up in the following weeks when there’s more availability. Sometimes, locums might want to be off for the summer holidays, and then they might want to work again when it’s school time again, and they might find that actually there are not many days available, because everyone is back at work.

As a locum, I’ve adapted my days by…

I always make sure I’m at the practice at least 20 minutes before the shift starts, especially if I’m going in for the first time and need things setting up. If you’re getting in for 9am and setting up, and there's a patient waiting, that’s a delay to your whole day.

In terms of referrals, I’m a bit more careful in terms of making sure I’m sorting it out there and then, rather than waiting until towards the end of the day, because I obviously don’t have the luxury of coming back and sorting them out. If there is the off chance that it’s a busy day and I can’t, I’d go back in on a day where I’m off and sort it out. But I always try and do it on the day, even if I’m delayed. If I see something, I want to give the patient the referral there and then and make sure they have a copy of it.

Practices can make life easier for locums by…

Different practices use different systems, and I think that’s the biggest setback for locums, in terms of going in and knowing absolutely zilch about the system. It’d be quite useful if they had training guides on the systems themselves: even just a lowdown of the equipment they use, and the setup, to manage our expectations a bit.

My favourite thing about being a locum is...

Definitely having that choice of working when you want to, and not having to ask anyone for leave. Having that flexibility to say, “okay, I haven’t worked that much because of holidays, let’s do a few more days in the following weeks and I’ll be fine.”

Also, the pay is much better, so that helps. You don't have to work too much. You can still earn comfortably and have a good work life balance. Locuming gives you the opportunity to work on your aspirations, or any anything else that you might be interested in – for example the Vision Care for Homeless People Clinic that I am planning to open next year in Stratford, east London.