Why Locum? By Jane Davidson RVN
Locum work can be one of the many joys of the veterinary career
There is something liberating and exciting about parachuting into a new working environment, hitting the ground running as you engage with an entirely new infrastructure, team and set of routines.
I did so much locum work in my first decade of practice that I could write a whole book on the experiences. There were three main ways that I used locuming, and many vets will have had similar experiences to these.
Locum as in-between-job fillers
First, as a filler between longer-term jobs. When I qualified, my first serious “gig” was eight months locum work overseas, studying cattle ticks in Africa. The job started in October, which meant that I had ten weeks free before I left: it was the perfect opportunity to do locum work. As well as the chance to earn some serious cash, I liked the idea of doing my first real job in practice as a locum. The advantage of doing this (compared to starting off in a long-term job) is that it gave me the chance to do some of the big “firsts” in a place where I would never be seen again. My first consults, my first farm animal call-out, my first calving, my first-night on-call all happened while I was working as a locum in a town many miles away from home.
The job was in Aberdeenshire, in a small market town. I was put up in digs with a local family, and the partners in the practice had just the right combination of being supportive without being too protective.
‘I still clearly remember many of my “firsts”
I’d say to the partner “But I have never done one of those before”, and he’d reply “Well if you were asked a question about that in your finals, what would you have said”. I happily and easily answered him, and he then just told me to get on and do it. You see, the veterinary training really is very good, and you do end up well-equipped to deal with real-life situations. It’s simply a matter of confidence, and the only way to get that is to get on with the job.
Locum to help pay for travel
My second use of locum work was as a way of covering my costs during a year of time out spent backpacking. I worked first in Hong Kong, and then in Australia, doing stints of up to eight weeks as a locum vet. This type of locum work was different: by now, I was experienced, so was able to take sole charge of a practice. And there was the novelty of working in a new country, with different cultural and disease challenges.
Two experiences stand out in my memory. In Hong Kong, most of my clients were Chinese, so the consultations were carried out in Cantonese. I had an interpreter beside me: he had helped the vet for the previous twenty years. This was the easiest job I had ever done. The client came in with the pet, which I would examine while the interpreter talked about the case with the client. He would then turn to me and say “The dog has had diarrhoea for a day but is fine otherwise. Will I give him the usual treatment?” Of course, I still had to check what that treatment was, and there were many cases where the clinical signs necessitated a different approach, but it did make life easier to be excused from lengthy discussions with the owner.
A second memorable occasion was a locum job in rural Queensland. We made the arrangements on the phone, and it turned out that the timing was right: the owner of the practice had to leave before I was able to arrive. He had a simple answer: he left the keys for his home and practice in the glove compartment of his car in the driveway. I arrived, let myself in, read his instructions on a sheet of A4 paper, and that was it. I ran his practice for two weeks, then I left before he returned. The essentials of one vet clinic are pretty similar to another, and it worked surprisingly well.
These locums “on the road” allowed me to fund my backpacking habit very efficiently. These days, there may be more restrictions on where vets are allowed to practice, but with a bit of planning, there are still many possibilities.
Locum during the pause before finding a long-term job
After my time spent traveling overseas, I returned to the UK job market. At first, there were no long-term jobs that immediately appealed, and locum work offered a useful way of earning money while visiting different parts of the country, considering where I wanted to make my long-term base. In the end, it was after doing a three-month locum at Dublin Vet School that I decided that I wanted to stay in Ireland for the longer term. And while locuming, I met local practitioners at social events, so when a long-term assistantship with partnership prospects materialised, I already had a foot in the door.
Locum work instead of permanent work
Some vets and vet nurses prefer locum work for the foreseeable future, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it allows us the opportunity to travel the UK exploring different parts of our beautiful country, as well as seeing how different practices are run on daily bases. The added bonus is meeting all the different people along the way!
Locum pay rate is better than permanent salaries and with locum work, there is a lot of money to be made, which is another reason long-term locuming is a great solution to many. With locum vets now getting anywhere between £200-£250 per day, this can mean an increase in up to 25% on a permanent salary with a potential yearly earning, on average, of £50,000.
With locum work you also have the option of unlimited holiday, you decide when you work which suits many veterinary professionals who are looking for flexibility. You are your own boss!
Clearly, there are pros and cons to locums, but for the right situation, a good quality locum role can be an enjoyable, useful and interesting part of a veterinary career.
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