Life as a locum

“Every day is about first impressions”

Sheffield-based optometrist, Usman Farooq, explains how locuming has allowed for flexibility when visiting family in his home city of Edinburgh

Animation of office items, a calendar, Zoom call and a briefcase

Before I started locuming...

I was in Edinburgh, where I’m originally from, working in the practice where I had completed my pre-reg. I had worked there as an optical assistant beforehand, so I had a long history and a good rapport with them, and I enjoyed working there. I saw no reason to leave after my pre-reg – it was a good relationship for both parties.

Eventually, for opportunities, not just for myself but for family, we decided to come down to Sheffield. From there, I linked up with a friend from university and started working with them as a resident in a local practice. I did that for a year, and then we both decided to leave and dip our toes into the world of locuming.

He became a locum before I did. Locuming can be a bit daunting, but having somebody who had done it and had proven that it could be done and hadn’t gone back was a big factor.

You develop relationships with colleagues in the workplace, and a lot of them had decided to do the same thing. Leaving the working environment, you’re losing working with your friends, so the appeal of locuming maybe drops a little bit. But my former colleagues were singing the praises of locuming, and were all quite happy. So, I decided to make the jump too.

I made the decision to become a locum because...

Of the flexibility in where I’d be able to work. I’m from Edinburgh, and living in Sheffield it became a situation where all my annual leave was taken up going home to visit family. I’d go home, and everyone else would be working. I’d spend 9am-5pm relaxing, and then see them in the evening. If you’re going to see family, it’s a bit of a waste of a day.Locuming allows me to pick up shifts in Edinburgh, so I can go there and continue working, and the days I want to take off I can do something else. That was the main factor. It wasn’t so I could work less. It was the ability to not be locked down in a singular location. It wasn’t straightforward, because Scotland has a different health board. But it was still doable.

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

That I could just give it time, and to be patient, because the right practices and the right opportunities would appear. It was all going to be okay.

In the beginning, when you look at your diary and you see that it’s empty, that can be a bit stressful. You’ve lost that regular nine to five, and the regularity that on the 27th your pay cheque comes in and you don’t have to worry about it. Rain, sleet or shine, it is going to be there. That made me a bit nervous and a bit panicky.

I’ve got multiple friends who are locums, and everybody was saying it was going to be okay, but I didn’t believe them. It was my own stubbornness, so despite everyone’s best efforts, I just had to go through it and learn for myself that things were going to be okay.


Usman is co-host of the Glasses Half Full podcast on Spotify


On my first day of locuming...

I felt very excited. It was a bit daunting going into a new place and a new practice, and I didn’t want to inconvenience anybody. It was a big place, and big places are very busy. Everybody had something to do, so I didn’t want to be asking, ‘What do I do? How do log in? What are the referral guidelines?’

But those questions do have to be asked every time. Over time, you understand that. My first day was still exciting, though. I’d left my job, come back from holiday, and I was looking forward to it.

My biggest locum challenge is…

The days I’m not working, even if it’s a holiday or a sick day. I didn’t take any sick days until I became a locum. Luckily, I just didn’t get ill. Understanding that one of the cons of being a locum is that these are issues that you will have to face is something I’m still getting to grips with. Being okay taking an extra day off here and there without pay, and knowing that if you need to take a sick day, if that’s what’s best for you and the patients, that is what you need to do – that’s still a challenge I’m navigating.

Practices can make life easier for locums by…

Prioritising communication. I understand that that can be hard when there’s a lot going on and you have your practice to run and your own staff in, and the last thing you want to be doing is worrying about the locum. But communication is key, especially if changes happen in the diary, or you’re swapping over a clinic. Surprises aren’t nice. So, if practices could minimise them, that would be better.

Communication is key, especially if changes happen in the diary, or you’re swapping over a clinic. Surprises aren’t nice. So, if practices could minimise them, that would be better


My favourite thing about being a locum is…

No office drama. It was only when I was in one of the practices, overhearing something in a different test room, that I thought: ‘Hold on. I haven’t had to listen to or deal with any of that since being a locum.’ That’s been nice.

There’s also the obvious stuff: I enjoy having the flexibility, being able to be as busy or as free as I want, and not having to ask anyone to take days off or have holidays rejected. But that’s the stuff that everyone says. I enjoy the lack of office drama.

As a locum, I’ve adapted my days by…

Knowing that every day is about first impressions. As a resident, you might be a bit more relaxed, because you’ve built those relationships with people.

I don’t need to adapt much of my testing routine. It’s more a case of, ‘Okay, do I know where to park?’ And then going in with a big smile, because this is probably the first time a lot of the staff are seeing me, even if I know the director or another optometrist there already. I’ve worked in quite a few places, and it is always a case of good first impressions.

My advice for new locums is...

Take it easy. It’s a long road. Not locuming itself, but the career path. Don’t be in a rush to do everything. It’s probably going to be okay. I run a podcast with a couple of friends, and we cover a lot of this. Locuming is not for everybody. I have plenty of friends who are still residents, and they like residency, and that’s absolutely fine. Don’t feel like you have to do this. But if you do, don’t panic. Take your time. It’s not a war zone. You’ll be fine.

My last word on locuming is...

It’s not what it used to be. That’s what I'm hearing from a lot of colleagues. Maybe it’s due to an oversaturation of locums. I don’t know how long it has been the case, but I feel like that has always been mentioned: that there are too many or too few. But there are opportunities, and you need to take them when they’re present, because you don’t know how long these opportunities will be here.

I don’t know if I'll be a locum forever. But if you speak to people who have been locuming for a long time, it’s not the scene it used to be. But that might not matter – it still might be the scene that’s right for you.