Life as a locum

"Locuming is pushing me out of my comfort zone"

Newly-qualified locum optometrist and AOP Councillor, Summaya Ali, explains how working in different environments is broadening her horizons 18 months on from qualification

Summaya lead

Before I became a locum, I worked...

As a specialist optometrist at Royal Bolton Hospital. I did four days there and then one day as a resident optometrist on the High Street.

Having a mix of hospital and High Street experience was good, but I wanted to try something new. The good thing about locuming is, if you go to a practice and don’t like it, you’re not committed to going there again. You can trial different practices. I tend to go to stores that are within 15 miles from where I live, because I don’t like driving.

I’m lucky – because I’ve got the hospital experience, when I go to the High Street, I’m more comfortable. As long as I feel like I can manage it myself, I don’t refer everything that I see. You’re always learning something.

I made the decision to move into locuming because...

I was looking for a change. Because I’m newly-qualified, I can try different things. I’ve got the hospital experience, and the High Street experience, and I thought, ‘let’s try locuming. If it doesn’t work, I can go back to what I’m familiar with.’ Right now, I’m in a position where I want to try different things. Some things might work, some things might not. I can learn different things from different jobs.

In the long run, I would like to locum part-time. I still do a children’s clinic for the NHS, so I’m not completely out of the hospital setting. When I locum, because a lot of practice managers know that I run my own children’s clinic, they like me to see children on the High Street as well.

I have adapted my days by...

Adjusting from specialist work within a hospital environment to routine sight testing on the High Street. The good thing about my work is, because I’ve worked at Bolton Hospital and I locum within the area, I know how Bolton Hospital runs. If I’m doing a referral, I know exactly how the patient is going to be managed. So, it’s helping the hospital out as well.

The thing that helped me when I started locuming was...

If I’m not sure about something, to always ask. I jumped right into locuming. I was aware, because I was coming from a hospital background, that locuming would be challenging: getting used to the High Street setting, and the equipment.

On my first day, I made it clear to the manager that I’d never locumed before; this was my first shift: talk me through how you’d like me to do things, familiarise me with the equipment, and if I’ve got any questions throughout the day, I can ask. As long as you explain that at the beginning, people are always happy to help. Clear communication, I think, is important.

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

To try to book shifts in advance. A lot of people don’t like to book shifts in advance because they don’t know what they’re going to be doing in the next week or so. But, in terms of stability, it’s always good to have work that’s already planned, so you’re not panicking last minute if you don’t have a shift. My top tip would be to always book shifts three months in advance.

The only thing that I would say, with booking in advance, is that sometimes whoever is booking you as a locum might change their mind closer to the time, or when the shift is about to happen. Don’t take things for granted.

Top locum tip

Always book shifts three months in advance

I realised this...

Pretty quickly. When I first started, I thought shifts would be available every week. But it’s not always the case. It depends on the month and the patient demand in different practices. November was busy, but January was quiet. It was a difficult thing to get my head around.

My biggest locum challenge is...

That income is not guaranteed. In the long run, if I was to start a family, I’d have to be aware that I might have to consider something else in terms of employment. I wouldn’t want to solely rely on locuming, because there’s no guarantee.

Because Bolton is a saturated area in terms of locuming, shifts might be quite rare. But, if you are struggling to get shifts in a certain month, you can always expand to go somewhere more remote, where there’s higher demand. You will always get shifts that way.

Practices can make life easier for locums by...

Being welcoming. Sometimes, especially when you first start locuming, it can be daunting to go to a practice where you’re not familiar with the staff or the environment or the equipment, or even the referral pathway. Referral pathways are really important, because they are dependent on location.

Maybe have a file that locums can read through. Something that’s emailed to them the day before, that they can familiarise themselves with, would make such a difference. A file that shows all the referral pathways, and what to expect. I feel like the locum would appreciate it. The locum is helping the practice out by working there. It’s nice if the practice can help a locum out too, so things run smoothly.

Some practices want you to do their own pre-screening, whereas in others the pre-screening is done for you. So, make it clear what is expected of the locum. If there is anything that they are unsure of, who is the designated person that the query should be sent to?

It’s nice if the practice can help a locum out too, so things run smoothly


My favourite thing about being a locum is...

Flexibility. I get more days off, and I can choose when and where I want to work.

Also, I’m a creature of habit. I don’t like to venture out unless I really have to. I feel like locuming is pushing me out of my comfort zone, because it means I have to travel. Otherwise, I probably would stick to one place. I’m familiarising myself with different environments and different people, and I’m meeting new people. So, that’s nice.

The most essential thing in my locum kit bag is...

I take my own trial frame, my own ophthalmoscope and retinoscope, and of course my own Volk, because it’s something I’m used to. As a locum, you should never rely on the practice to provide everything for you. Some multiples provide their own Volks, but at others it’s rare. Take the basics, and you should be fine.

My advice for newly qualified locum optometrists is...

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because nobody knows everything. Even if you’re not newly qualified, you’re probably still going to want to know more about the practice. Don’t feel like asking a question might make you look a certain way. It shows that you’re interested. Feel free to ask if there’s anything that you’re unsure of.