Locum digest

The variety of a locum diary

Bhargavi Zinzuwadia and Summaya Ali share how they plan their diary, what factors they look out for, and the benefits of the variety that locuming brings

weekly planner
Pexels/Jess Bailey Designs
Locum optometrists may experience more variety than most, as practitioners who support an ever-changing list of patients, meet new teams day-to-day, and work through a range of practice settings, against a moving backdrop of villages, towns and cities.

Many optometrists interviewed through OT’s Life as a locum series highlight this variety as something that has drawn them to this career avenue.

To find out more about what this experience means to optometrists who are practising as locums, as well as the logistics of diary planning, OT asked Summaya Ali, an optometrist based in Bolton, and Bhargavi Zinzuwadia, an optometrist based in Leicester, to share their experiences.

What is your process for planning your diary?

Summaya Ali, locum optometrist and AOP Councillor
Summaya Ali (SA), locum since November 2022: I only locum within 15 miles of my house, so initially I created a list of all optometry High Street practices within this distance and downloaded the Specsavers and Vision Express app, where shifts are advertised, including the location. If a shift suits my availability, and I am happy with the requirements, then I would book. Once the shift is confirmed from the other end, then it would go into my diary.

I try to book shifts at least two months in advance so that work is guaranteed. I would say that, if no shifts are booked in advance, be prepared to travel for work.

Bhargavi Zinzuwadia (BZ), locum since October 2021: I tend to locum within an hour of Leicester and start looking at least three weeks in advance. I like to have some variety in a week: different clinics where I’ll be doing refraction or specialist clinics.

What factors do you weigh up when considering a practice booking?

SA: Have I enjoyed locuming at that particular practice in the past? Are the staff pleasant to work with? Can I rely on the staff to help things run smoothly during a busy clinic? Am I happy with the rate offered?

BZ: Does the practice have a different set of equipment? A lot of locums really like optical coherence tomography, for example. Or does the clinic have different groups of practitioners from whom I could learn something? Or it may be a refraction clinic, which is important to keep my skills in this area.

Are there settings you are particularly drawn to?

Bhargavi Zinzuwadia, locum optometrist
SA: Practices where staff, both on the shop floor and in management, have a good relationship – it’s easily observed – as well as practices where the atmosphere is enjoyable and I can be my own boss.

BZ: For some weeks, yes. I really like diabetic clinics in practice, or I’ll look at whether a practice has medical retina specialised clinics. I completed my professional certificate in the medical retina in January, and I want to keep those skills going, so I will think about how to use them in different areas. I might consider whether a practice is in contact with ophthalmologists or in an area that needs practitioners with those skills, where the NHS has a large burden, whether I can help?

How does working in different practice environments enhance your skills as an optometrist?

SA: I work for different High Street practices so familiarising myself with different company systems has been something I needed to get my head around. Even when you are working for the same company but in a different practice, you need to be able to adjust to the environment you find yourself in. Depending on the location, for example, some practices I attend could have a high population of elderly patients, and so I know more referrals will be made in this practice.

As a locum optometrist I need to be prepared to use different equipment, such as phoropter heads and controls, and various types of slit lamp. Most locums become aware of the fact they need to be prepared to use different equipment and that they need to be quite flexible on the day of their shift. For example, some practices might not have a dispensing optician, and so I will be asked to take children’s pupillary distance measurements and approve a collection.

BZ: I think it’s really interesting and you are constantly learning. I might manage a presentation in a way that is different to another practitioner who has a different experience – how will that affect another presentation I manage in the future? It’s always good to learn from others.

How can I help the team? When you’re in practice you are there as a whole team member – I want them to think of me as part of a team. I’ve always found that in the practices I have been in, which is quite nice. You want to make their day easier, as well as yours. I have learned that each practice works differently, and each team has their own set of values. Most practices have their own way of answering: how can I ensure that patient care is really good? Each area comes with its own challenges, and you always learn from the patients.

What would you say to new locum optometrists about experiencing a range of settings?

SA: Remember you are accountable for the patient care you deliver on the day, so before turning up for the shift, ensure you are happy with the terms and conditions for that practice, the rate, and what is expected of you. Be confident, and make a lasting impression so the directors and managers would be happy to have you back again.

BZ: I was very nervous initially. One practitioner who is a locum optometrist said to me: “Just keep learning and expanding your knowledge. Don’t be afraid to book different clinics – you’ll learn something in that day.” I’ve now been practising as a locum for a year and a half.