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Life as a locum

“Having further education is worth its weight in gold”

Independent prescribing optometrist, Kamal Sandhu, explains how locuming has given her the career progression and support she needed

Kamal is dressed in a black graduation gown with a yellow stripe, and is standing on stone steps inside a grand building
Kamal Sandhu
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Before I became a locum...

I was working as a resident for a large multiple. I started at the multiple at the age of 19 as an optical assistant whilst I was studying at university, and slowly worked my way up to pre-reg and then to becoming a qualified optometrist. 

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

How essential it is to register with a good locum agency, which takes the time to get to know you. They get to know your skills and what you’re comfortable with, they know your likes and dislikes, and more importantly, they know your worth. A good agency will always contact you for opportunities instead of you chasing them. 

A good agency will always contact you for opportunities instead of you chasing them

 

I realised this when…

I was booking locum days but often having them cancelled at the last minute, which meant I was losing out on other work. I was also working quite far away from home, for low rates, and I wasn’t getting the opportunities that I wanted. I felt that I was constantly chasing practices for work. 

The person who helped made me realise this was… 

A close friend, who had also started locuming. She suggested an agency that booked her work. Since registering with that agency, I have had amazing and unique locum opportunities that I otherwise would not have come across. Using an agency has made locum life so much easier. 

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

As a resident, I simply had had enough. As a newly qualified optometrist, I moved to a large practice within the chain where I had completed my pre-reg placement. I had promises of support, but I unfortunately did not receive this.  

I transferred to a different practice, which was better, but I still found that there was little room for career or financial progression. I handed my notice in and left shortly after. 

On my first day of locuming...   

I was so nervous. I had never worked for another organisation, and I didn’t know what to expect. But I went in early to learn the system and about the store and how it ran, and from then my day just flowed. I had such a fun time with the manager and the team. They were so helpful and accommodating, and that’s when I realised that I had made the right decision. 

My biggest locum challenge is…  

Not being able to follow up on patients, especially now as I’ve qualified as independent prescriber (IP). It’s always good for a patient to follow up with the original clinician that they have seen, however, most of the time this isn’t possible if the patient has seen a locum. You have to trust other clinicians to continue with your follow-ups. 

As a locum, I’ve adapted my days by… 

Getting to know more about the store before booking locum work. When I first started locuming, I used to blindly book days without knowing much about the practice. I didn’t know how long lunch breaks were, what equipment they had in store, or whether I had to do my own pre-screening. 

Now, before booking work I ensure that I know about testing times, lunch break times, pre-screening, what equipment there is in store, and whether parking is available, so I can decide whether or not to book work. 

Practices can make life easier for locums by… 

Taking time out at the beginning of the clinic to go through how the store runs, and showing us where everything is.  

Clinics run differently in each practice. It would be good if they could familiarise us with the practice, equipment, and staff, so we know who to hand over to after the eye examination. Show us where the trial banks are, instead of having us scrambling to find things in the middle of an examination. Provide information on referral pathways and local hospitals that we should refer to if needed.  

I've been to practices where they don’t communicate – they just about show you your testing room. Lack of information makes it more difficult to ensure the clinic runs smoothly. 

One change I’ve seen whilst working as a locum is…

The improvement of equipment in stores. When I first started locuming, the latest equipment was a fundus camera. Since then, most practices have acquired optical coherence tomography (OCT) and Optomap machines, which has almost forced optometrists to educate ourselves on interpreting them. 

This has made it easier to assess patients, allowing for more detailed referrals. Having access to OCT and Optomap has empowered optometrists to be more clinical and exposed to different eye conditions, and has allowed us to have a better understanding of conditions. Before, I feel like we would refer with very little knowledge on how or why a patient’s conditions had arisen or progressed. 

My favourite thing about being a locum is…  

Without a doubt, meeting new people. When I was a resident I had started to find optometry quite mundane. Having the same daily routine, it started to feel like Groundhog Day. 

Now, I get to network with resident and locum optometrists, dispensing opticians, and optical assistants. I’ve made some great friends through locuming. It’s always nice meeting people from different walks of life, and it is refreshing to change your environment. Working as a locum has also enabled me to travel to different places in England that I wouldn't have thought about exploring. 

My advice for new locums is...  

Take the jump. It seems daunting chucking yourself into the unknown world of locuming, but you won’t know what is out there until you try it. Expose yourself to different scenarios, whether it’s a new location, different practices, or even block bookings. You’ll either love it or hate it, but either way you’ll know what is right for you. 

My last word on locuming is...  

Never forget to upskill. I think sometimes, as locums, we can become complacent. But we can’t forget that optics is changing, and it’s always good to upskill and keep up with continuing education. Having further education is worth its weight in gold when you work in unfamiliar areas. Being able to prescribe as an IP optometrist, when some patients have poor access to healthcare, can make a world of difference.