100% Optical

11 insights on locuming in 2024

Starting out, securing shifts, and busting myths were the key themes of the Catwalk panel hosted by Asda and Locate a Locum

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A panel at 100% Optical 2024 (24–26 February) saw participants take a deep dive into advice for locum optometrists.

The session, entitled Everything you need to know about working as a locum optometrist in 2024, was hosted by Stevie McIntyre, head of marketing at Locate a Locum.

McIntyre was joined on stage by Sarah Joyce, optometrist and head of optical at ASDA, her colleague Jennifer Patrick, head of field operations at the supermarket chain, and chief executive of Locate a Locum, Jonny Clarke.

Patrick opened the discussion by highlighting how vital locums are to Asda Opticians.

“For us, the locum population is vital and important,” she said. “Locums are our backbone for how we operate.”

The panel covered various subjects, including starting out as a locum and how to find shifts.

Several recurrent myths about locuming were also addressed.

OT gathered the panel’s insights for those who are starting out on their locum journey, those who might be considering it, and those who are already embedded in this way of work.

1 “You don’t have to be a locum forever”

There are numerous points during an optometry career when someone might decide that locum is the correct path for them, Clarke said – and there might also be points when locuming no longer suits their lifestyle.

“When I first qualified, I was probably a locum for 18 or 24 months. Then I moved into a permanent position and did that for a number of years, before taking the opportunity to go back to locuming again,” he said.

Clarke emphasised that there are trends towards locuming both at the start of an optometry career, and the end – something that he has noticed in the users of Locate a Locum.

“We see a lot of locums that like that flexibility. Really, people choose to become locums depending on their own circumstances,” he shared.

He added that the 40,000 locums that Locate a Locum serves come from all ages and demographics, from newly qualified to working parents and those nearing retirement.

“Locums shouldn’t be typecast,” Clarke believes.

2 Being organised is the most important thing

Joyce emphasised that locum careers live or die on the organisational skills that the individual has.

“There are certain parts that are going to fall to you, as the locum, that you've got to be responsible for,” she said, adding that this includes maintaining General Optical Council registration and keeping up to date with continuing professional development.

She noted the importance of planning ahead and knowing the referral criteria for all the locations where you have shifts booked.

The worst thing is sitting in front of a patient who needs to be referred and not knowing what to do with them, Joyce believes.

She also advised thinking ahead and considering what you are likely to need in the coming year – whether you will need to renew your Disclosure and Barring Service check, for example.

“There’s nothing better than being prepared,” she emphasised. “It’s about thinking ahead a little bit: ‘what are all the things I’m going to need to be a locum? What are the things I’m going to need to keep going, every year?’”

3 Join and engage with your LOC

Joining a Local Optical Committee (LOC) can be useful to ensure you have the information you need, including in terms of referral criteria, Joyce said.

She added that being part of your LOC is the best way to know about what is going on in your local area, or about changes that might affect practices that you are likely to be working in.

Having a familiarity with local hospitals and how their eye departments operate is also something LOCs can help you get up to speed on, Joyce said.

“For me, the top tip is to know the local area you’re going to be working in,” she said. “Understand your local referral protocols. Understand the local environment, understand where your nearest hospitals are.”

Patrick also advised asking other optometrists what the practice you have booked or are considering booking is like, before you arrive for your first day – something that again can be easier if you are already part of a network of local optometrists.

“Ask someone who has worked in the place you’re looking at for shifts, to understand what the culture will be like, and how comfortable and welcome you’ll be made to feel on the day,” she advised.

4 Evidence that you are “competent, safe and professional”

To make your life easier when setting up work with new practices, Clarke recommended having all your documents in one easily accessible portfolio, that you can easily upload and forward to the practice manager.

Speaking about the importance of organisation, Joyce added: “You’ll need things like Right to Work evidence, and clinical references. If you know you need all of that, you can bundle it all up and be ready to go, and then you’re set.”

He also reminded attendees of the importance of indemnity insurance for locums.

5 Get in touch ahead of day one

Joyce recommended getting in touch with a new practice ahead of your first shift, to discuss whether you can arrive early, where you should park, and anything else that you feel you should know ahead of time.

This is likely to be even more important if you have booked your shift through an app, rather than directly with the practice.

“If they haven’t reached out to you, reach out to the practice in advance of your shift, and ask them the questions: ‘where is the nearest place to park? Can I arrive a little bit early so I can have a play with your equipment, and make sure it is set up the way I like it?’” Joyce advised.

She added: “If I could go back and locum again, I would definitely make more of an effort to do that.”

Patrick also suggested visiting the practice as a patient or customer ahead of your first shift, so you can see the patient journey from the other side of the testing chair.

6 Rely on the experience of the team in front of you

Clarke noted that the in-house practice team are likely to have all the information that you need, and that you should feel that you are able to rely on them if you have a question during a shift.

“You may be working with an optical team that work in that store day-in-day-out, and really relying on that experience,” he said. “When I was a new locum in a practice, five minutes before the store opened, I would ask about the regular things that happened in that store that day, or if there were tips for dealing with certain patients.”

“The most important thing is relying on the experience of the team that you have in front of you,” Clarke believes.

“Chat to the colleagues,” Joyce added. “Know the team you are working with. They will be able to support you. If you’ve got any referrals, or whatever it might be, you will know that you are prepared ,and you can manage and deal with that.”

7 Flexibility is key

Clarke also emphasised the importance of flexibility when booking shifts.

Some areas of the country, especially around the optometry universities, are busier with qualified optometrists than others, he said.

Having flexibility on where you can travel to for work could be the difference between booking shifts and struggling to find them.

Clarke also reminded attendees that rates are partially based on supply and demand.

Locums should try not to focus only on areas that are “five miles from home,” he said, adding that “with flexibility, there really is an unbelievable amount of locum work available.”

8 Get clarity on payment

It might seem like a simple thing – but being completely clear on how much you will be paid as a self-employed locum might not be as straightforward as expected, especially at the start of a locum career.

Patrick reminded attendees to be completely clear on what they will be paid ahead of any shifts.

She also recommended the Locate a Locum app, which includes the functionality for locums to include their rates before booking work, as a useful tool for this.

9 Consider times of the year when locums will be more in demand

Joyce recommended thinking about the periods during the year when locums might be more in demand – for example in the summer holidays, or during religious festivals when resident optometrists are more likely to be away.

Booking these shifts early via the locum apps is a good idea, Joyce said.

She noted that rates on the south coast of England are traditionally high, and suggested locums add a few days onto their summer holiday so they can work whilst they are away for a higher than usual rate.

She added: “If you’re on holiday, and you’re down there for a week, and you want to put a day in to pay for your holiday? Even better.”

Clarke also recommended searching for ‘stay away’ opportunities when booking locum shifts ahead of time.

10 Keep on top of your finances

Clarke reminded attendees that, as self-employed contractors, locum optometrists should keep on top of their finances every month instead of letting things slide and having to catch up later. 

He advised employing an accountant for this, rather than trying to stay on top of it yourself.

11 Be aware that day rates and payment terms can vary

Patrick emphasised that there are a number of factors that can influence the day rate that the practice is willing to pay, and that locums should be prepared for this.

Aside from geographic location, how far in advance you are booking shifts and how busy the business is are both factors that could impact the rate you are offered, she said.

From Asda’s perspective, “it is important to realise that there are a lot of things that we could look at before we lock down and advertise shifts,” she said.

She also noted that payment terms vary between different practice settings.

Whilst payment will always be in arears, Patrick said, Asda Opticians generally pays its locums around one week after the shift.

The panel noted that Locate a Locum, which facilitates payments for its users, has two-week payment terms.