Locum optometrist guide

Healthy habits

Optometrists discuss how they navigate the unique pressures a locum role presents and the daily steps they take to preserve their wellbeing

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Working as a locum brings many rewards – a flexible schedule, a variety of clinical settings, and the opportunity to build new connections each day.

But locum work is not without challenges. Locum optometrists need to be able to adapt quickly to each practice’s equipment and processes.

It may be harder for optometrists to be seen as a member of the team when they are moving between practices.

“A lot of the time we are expected to do a lot of sight tests, without much interaction,” locum optometrist, Pete Sharma, explained.

“This can sometimes be quite daunting, especially if it’s repetitive and can have an effect on mental health,” he said.

The 2023 General Optical Council registrant survey reported that locum practitioners were more likely to be dissatisfied in their job than full-time and part-time employed optometrists.

Of the one in four locum optometrists who were dissatisfied in their job, 44% selected ‘poor working environment’ as a factor that contributed to their lack of fulfilment at work.

Forming connections

When OT approached a panel of optometrists for their thoughts on nurturing wellbeing while working as a locum, a common theme emerged: the importance of establishing connections at work.

Sharma shared that chatting with patients and being able to help them with their vision boosted his own wellbeing.

“Everyone has their own story to tell,” he said.

“Sometimes seeing happiness in patients has a positive effect on the mood as it feels like we are making a genuine contribution to their health,” Sharma highlighted.

The locum optometrist also makes an effort to interact with staff at the practices where he works.

“I think a simple interaction such as ‘How is your day?’ or ‘How are you?’ goes a long way,” he said.

Offer to make the tea, bring in some biscuits for the team and initiate conversations to find and explore common interests

Peter Greedy, optometrist and leadership coach

Optometrist and leadership coach, Peter Greedy, also emphasised the importance of building connections at work.

“Offer to make the tea, bring in some biscuits for the team and initiate conversations to find and explore common interests. You will mostly find your efforts are appreciated and reciprocated,” he shared.

Locum optometrist, Sam Phillips, shared that he also makes an effort to get to know practice staff.

“It’s easy to keep yourself to yourself as a locum, especially if it’s a one-off booking, but remember that being social with the team around you can be beneficial to mental wellbeing and also increases your chances of being rebooked,” he said.

From surviving to thriving

Optometrist and mindset coach, Sheena Tanna-Shah, shared that locums need to look after their own wellbeing in order to deliver the best possible care to patients.

“When I was experiencing anxiety and low mood, I was surviving the day and not thriving at all,” she said.

“I felt overwhelmed because I didn’t know how to feel ‘happier’,” she said.

Tanna-Shah shared that communicating with others and seeking professional support helped her to move forward.

“For once I didn’t feel alone. Using the tools and techniques I learnt from my therapist, I was able to implement positive changes and began to feel my sense of purpose ignite again,” she said.

She observed that awareness around mental health and wellbeing has shifted significantly since she qualified as an optometrist.

“When I started 18 years ago it was pretty non-existent. Now there is an abundance of resources online and in the workplace. More people are open to talking about it, whereas before it could be a very isolating feeling,” Tanna-Shah said.

The importance of preparation

A thread that united many of the panellists’ responses was the value of preparation in mitigating the workplace stresses that locums face.

Tanna-Shah recommended that locums arrive early, even if they have worked in the practice before, as changes may have been made since they last visited.

“Being organised is key. Know which room you will be consulting in, ensure you have the right equipment, and that you are familiar with the system,” she said.

Locum optometrist, Frank Eperjesi, shared that locum optometrists should plan their journey time to the practice and add half an hour when it is their first visit.

While not always feasible, they may also consider going to a new practice a few days ahead to meet staff, check equipment, and get a sense of the patient flow.

When working in clinic, Eperjesi recommends using a watch or clock to keep track of time, rather than a mobile phone.

“Phones with notifications turned on are a distraction from the main duties which are listen, look and think,” he highlighted.

Locum optometrist, Sam Phillips, emphasised the importance of dealing with tasks on the same day.

He also highlighted the value of setting clear expectations regarding working conditions.

“Don’t allow yourself to be led into a 25-minute clinic if you’re only comfortable with a 30-minute clinic, for example,” he shared.

“Don’t be scared to advocate for yourself if a practice attempts to overstretch you,” Phillips added.

More information about optometrist Peter Greedy’s coaching, leadership and team building services can be found on his website.