The pros and cons of locuming

Female vet and dog

Image ©iStockphoto.com/mico_images

Being a veterinary locum is challenging, interesting and potentially lucrative but it can also be lonely, hard work and stressful. I have been working this way since 2008 and here are my personal pros and cons for anyone considering it!

Pros

You get to choose when you work

To some extent this is true, but you also need to be available when people want you. I have certainly worked less as a locum than I did as an employed vet (and I haven’t done a single night on call) but I have also worked a LOT harder as well. It can be difficult to turn work down and, for me, this has meant occasionally doing full weeks in addition to weekends.

For parents it can be very useful to not work during school holidays, but having flexible childcare really comes in handy for last minute bookings.

You earn more

Again, this is probably true if you work full time (i.e. 48 weeks a year), but many locums choose to work less and earn the same. Still, not a bad deal!

You see a variety of practice and techniques

During my time locuming I have worked in pretty much all of the corporates, a referral centre, several low cost clinics, large hospitals and sole charge practices. The variety in our profession is amazing and you will never stop learning.

Cons

You need to be confident in your abilities

For many people this won’t be a problem, but if you aren’t confident in your abilities to work unaided in routine consulting and surgery, then many practices won’t want you as a locum – you are there to fill a staff role, without causing them any hassle. Although many employers will be patient, they really want someone who can come in and get the job done.

It is also important to appreciate that, unless you have major reservations, you need to follow practice protocol and price up correctly. I often hear complaints that not only are locum staff expensive they also have lower turnover to regular employees. It can be difficult to tackle a new computer system and charging structures but it is important. A decent practice should let you know how they want things done and be willing to answer questions.

You will be constantly asking questions

In the same vein, whenever I worked at a brand new clinic I felt like I was asking questions every two minutes. It is difficult when you don’t know where things are or how things are done. However, obviously it is better to ask and try to remember than get it wrong. Good staff will be patient and helpful – but if they aren’t, you don’t have to go back.

You are never "part of the team"

One of the things I love most about being a vet is working with a team of people I know well and get on with. As a locum you are always the "new kid" and although the majority of practices I have worked in are very welcoming, there is often the feeling you never quite fit in. This is why I love going back to places for repeat bookings, knowing the team and the clinic well makes things much easier.

You won’t know the clients

Another one of my favourite things about being a vet is building up a relationship with my clients and their pets and knowing their history. As a locum you don’t get this and I highly recommend taking a few minutes to scan back through each patients record to find out how they have been, even if they are just a vaccine.

"Oh, you aren’t..."

In the same way I like to know the clients, many like to know their vet and aren’t terribly pleased to see a stranger. A really useful skill as a locum is being able to quickly develop a rapport. Also, even if you might not completely agree with any treatment plan they are on (unless it is actively damaging) continue it as best you can. If you have any concerns, you can always bring it up with the practice later.

You will probably need to travel

As a locum you will obviously be working at different practices and many of these will not be "down the road" – 6am starts were the norm for me for a while and the M6 and I became sworn enemies! 

However, your accountant should be able to claim back your petrol expenses.

I have been lucky in that I have only spent a few nights away while working, but for many positions you will need to stay nearby. The standards of accommodation are best described as variable, but most practices will do their best.  

You will have to do your own accounts

I am terrible with my accounts and have often longed for the days when a payslip arrived and that was that. However, it isn’t difficult to keep control of your incomings in a simple spreadsheet and a decent accountant will help with your returns, especially if you register as a Limited Company – something which many practices require and can be advantages for tax. 

Many of the locum agencies have umbrella companies you can operate under, which can be the best option if you don’t plan to work this way for long.

Summary

Despite the fact that this article has turned out to have more cons that pros, I really enjoy being a locum and I hope it doesn’t put you off!

It is a challenging but interesting and potentially lucrative way to work but it isn’t for everyone. However, by far the best thing about being peripatetic is the people you will meet and work with. The people in the veterinary profession are fantastic!

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