Taking the Ruff with the Smooth by Kate CavanaghOct 7, 2018 Kate Cavanagh
Locuming: Taking the ruff with the smooth
As I alluded to in my previous blog, locuming has many perks such as flexibility and control. Being still quite new to locum work, my struggles are ongoing. Although as locums we hope to forge good working relationships within the practices we work, we are often seen and feel like lone rangers. However, there are many of us around, and in the future I would like to see us working together more and helping each other along the way. Mistakes, and learning from them, are part of life and how we grow.
Why not avoid a few stumbles along the way by talking to others who are willing to help?
I am no expert but maybe some of you have similar concerns that may even be stopping you from taking the leap? I will share with you the main 6main challenges I faced along the way.
1) How do I get paid?
My first challenge was working out how to get paid for my work. Many other locums seemed to have partners, relatives, or good friends who were accountants, financial advisors, or running their own business. They did not fear the finance side so much, as they had trusted advisors. My financial knowledge was weak to say the least, and I had no helpful contacts in the beginning.
Bucking the anti-expert trend, I reached out and phoned Ben at Simply Locums. Using his experience and contacts, and my own research, I gained the confidence to choose my own route.
There appear to be three payment routes: through self-employment, through a limited company, or through an umbrella company.
Unless you have someone close to ask, I suggest you canvas an expert opinion on which route is best for your situation. Simply Locums can help, or put you in touch with someone who can.
Talk to other locums, but in the same way we encourage owners to ask a vet for veterinary advice, not the guy at the pub, we really should do the same. Unless the man in the pub happens to be an accountant, of course.
2) Where do I get work from?
It’s not breaking news that we are in the midst of a recruitment crisis in our profession. In my area of the country (midlands and north-west) if you are an experienced vet there is not a shortage of vacancies for both permanent and locum work. Some practice owners I know haven't had a holiday for years through being unable to secure a locum they can trust. Many practices also face long recruitment gaps for permanent roles.
Finding shifts has been easy, although I am only a part-time locum and I was not expecting to have to decline work. I found this surprisingly difficult, especially when knowing the practice, and wanting to help. I would suggest having an idea of the workload you want and try not be tempted to over-commit. Some people handle this better than others, but If you don’t learn to say no early on, you could end up working yourself into the ground.
I have found most of my shifts through word of mouth and friends. Simply Locums is my other stop. This company has inspiring new ideas in the pipeline, part of a wave of initiatives aimed at togetherness, and change, that make me feel positive about our profession. It is a profit sharing organisation, and soon to be social enterprise, run by a vet, for vets.
3) What do I charge for my work?
Seemingly there is no magic formula, and I am still learning. Always work out how much you need to keep back to cover taxes. You may need expert help to work this out, as it depends on how you are paid. There are benefits of being an employee that must not be overlooked. As a locum you do not get sick pay, get paid annual leave, or get paid for the days you are on CPD, or for the costs of the CPD itself. Permanent employees may get funding for memberships to RCVS/VDS and/or other organisations. There are a myriad of other benefits to which an employee may be entitled, such as private healthcare and discounted pet-care. This all needs to be factored into your chargeable rate.
Experience, location (central weighting), and antisocial hour uplift are other considerations. Talk to other locums, and use forums and discussion groups to gauge a starting point. You can always adjust this down the line, but it is best not to get unexpected financial shocks. Part-shifts and overtime became complicated with charging daily, so many people charge hourly.
4) IT system overload
I had considered the difficulties that would come with working in different teams. How would I remember everyone's names and roles? How they liked their brews? (nothing worse than a weak brew, right?) How would I find all the equipment? How do I know what the local SSOW and protocols are? How do I remember all the prices and packages?
But one thing above all else filled me with dread: the computer system. I’m not the most computer-friendly person, but no worse than many others. But the more places you locum, the more systems you meet, and the easier they get. I have a dizzying array of passwords and codes to remember, but everything becomes routine when it's routine. I stood outside the keypad locked door of my main work-place last week for longer than was ideal, contemplating which of the many codes in my head would get me in.
5) Where am I going?
Until last year I had been a full-time employed vet for 15 years, with one, or only a few places of work. Suddenly there are different starting times, places, and shift patterns. You need to get a good system to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. I write everything down in my calendar and would be lost without it. So far, so good.
6) How do I organise my day/week/year, when every year is different?
While one of the main reasons for taking the locum route was flexibility and freedom, it does take some getting used to. I am not very routine driven. If you are, you may find it very unsettling not knowing exactly what is around the corner. If you have financial commitments this can be a scary leap. To mitigate this many locums will choose longer locum periods. Others like me, prefer to work the odd day and keep it very flexible. It all depends on your lifestyle and situation.
I hope some of my experiences may help someone. Just going through the process means I know more now than I did last year. Contact Simply Locums for more information, or post your thoughts below. Let’s work together to make locuming less daunting.
So that was my top 6 stressors, but what other hurdles have you faced? How did you overcome them? What worries you about locuming?