Locum optometrist guide

Supporting wellbeing at work

Head of clinical and regulatory at the AOP, Henry Leonard, on how practices can provide a safe and healthy workplace for locum optometrists

animation of a person slumped over with a wind up key in their back

When it comes to wellbeing at work, there can be a tendency to imagine lunchtime yoga sessions or a free gym membership.

While these individual perks are increasingly popular in modern workplaces, a study published by University of Oxford researchers at the beginning of this year suggests that organisational changes may be more effective in addressing wellbeing concerns.

When thinking about what this means for optometry, practice owners should consider whether their scheduling, staff resources and management procedures lay the groundwork for a happy workforce.

Head of clinical and regulatory at the AOP, Henry Leonard, highlighted that practices should allow sufficient time for locums to familiarise themselves with the practice’s equipment, software systems and protocols ahead of their first clinic, and give them an opportunity to ask any questions they may have.

“The practice owner should ensure there is time for the locum practitioner to perform any administration tasks, such as completing referral letters, in addition to allowing them to have a proper break for lunch,” he said.

Preparing a ‘locum folder’ – with information such as local referral protocols – can also help to make the locum optometrist’s day more streamlined.

“It’s important to explain the roles of others in the practice, including reception staff, optical assistants and dispensers, and which members of staff can support the locum with delegated tasks, such as pre-screening and visual fields,” Leonard shared.

He emphasised that practices have a general duty to provide a safe working environment.

If a practice is General Optical Council-registered, then it will have additional obligations around ensuring that care is delivered in a suitable environment and that support staff are suitably trained and supervised.

Leonard shared that while working as a locum can be very rewarding, there can be challenges associated with working in an unfamiliar environment.

“Locums typically command a higher wage than employed practitioners, and practice owners are likely to want to make the best use of their time, by ensuring they have a full clinic,” Leonard observed.

It can be challenging for locum optometrists to run their clinics to time – particularly if they have not had the chance to familiarise themselves with equipment and procedures ahead of their first clinic.

“This can cause stress and anxiety for locums, who need to ensure that patients are managed appropriately,” Leonard shared.

In terms of the steps that locum optometrists can take to manage these pressures, Leonard recommended that locums familiarise themselves with the services offered by the practice, and referral pathways for the area, ahead of their visit.

“Practitioners should also allow plenty of time to travel to the practice, so they have some time to introduce themselves to other members of staff before their clinic starts and become familiar with the practice and the consulting room equipment,” Leonard explained.

Checking in

Optometrist and mindset coach, Sheena Tanna-Shah, emphasised the value of listening to staff and locum optometrists.

“Employers and practice owners can make more of a conscious effort to not just check in and ask people how they are doing, but take more notice of their body language, mood and tone and see if there are any changes to normal,” she shared.

If there is a change in behaviour that may suggest a colleague requires support, then a one-on-one conversation can be arranged and further resources may be signposted if needed.

Tanna-Shah highlighted the importance of creating a workplace where staff and locum optometrists feel comfortable raising concerns.

“It is important to regularly highlight that anyone can reach out regarding any issues and they will be heard, valued and supported,” she said.

Locum optometrist, James Brawn, highlighted that practice owners and staff should check that equipment is present, working and easily accessible. “It can be stressful to arrive at a practice to find that your chair is broken, the computer doesn't work, or the tonometer is broken,” he said.

Employers and practice owners can make more of a conscious effort to not just check in and ask people how they are doing, but take more notice of their body language, mood and tone and see if there are any changes

Sheena Tanna-Shah, optometrist

Brawn added that practice owners can support wellbeing by treating locum optometrists professionally.

“Delayed payment of invoices, or last minute cancellations can cause stress and upset, especially given the financial climate,” he said.

Locum optometrist, Sam Phillips, encouraged practice owners and staff to look out for changes in behaviour that may highlight stress or issues outside of work.

“Ask them if they need help or if things are running smoothly and make allowances for an individual that may be struggling,” he said.

In terms of his tips for practice owners, locum optometrist, Frank Eperjesi, shared that making sure previous patient records are to hand and providing a reasonable examination time to locum optometrists is helpful.

He also emphasised the importance of not expecting a 100% conversion rate, and providing constructive feedback to optometrists whose clinics regularly run behind.

For locum optometrist, Rebecca Rushton, highlighted that setting an adequate eye examination time ultimately provides benefits for the practice.

“If an optometrist is comfortable testing to a particular time with sufficient breaks, they are more likely to recommend practice services, products and provide the best service to their patients,” she said.

She also emphasised the importance of making timely payments to locum optometrists.

“Making payments on time keeps the relationship going smoothly, but if there are any difficulties with paying in a timely manner, please talk to your locum to keep them in the loop,” Rushton shared.

Locum optometrist, Usman Farooq, shared that when he works for a practice, he would like to be treated in the same way as resident optometrists.

“You hear of negative situations where locums are taken advantage of, manipulated and treated like they are expendable. The expectation of good communication and equal workload I feel is mutually beneficial,” he said.

Optometrist, Peter Greedy, shared that sometimes practice owners can have unrealistic expectations of their staff and locums.

“Small business owners can be very committed to the business and prepared to work very long hours and compromise on their own wellbeing. They can project expectations that the people they employ should be the same,” he shared.

Tell-tale signs of a practice that is not prioritising the wellbeing of staff and locums include failing to provide adequate break areas and budget invested in customer facing spaces but not in staff rooms.