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The Locum Motive

Vet Operating

Thom Jenkins General, Locum

Despite best efforts, many veterinary practices are increasingly struggling to retain and recruit permanent staff. Compounding this is the fact that more veterinarians and veterinary nurses are opting for locum work over permanent placements. Indeed, 75% of all new candidate registrations at Recruit4vets express a preference for, or are open to, locum work - this compares to 63% twelve months ago.

To get to the heart of what motivates this preference for locum work, we surveyed 34 veterinary businesses on their use of locums, and in parallel surveyed 93 locum veterinary professionals on their experiences.

Of the veterinary clinics we surveyed, 80% reported typically having one or more locums working for them at any one time. Of these locum placements, the majority (55%) last for 4 weeks or more, with only 14% lasting 1 week or less. The reason for the longer term cover becomes apparent when you consider that the most common reason to engage a locum is due to staff shortages (82%). 

The evidence suggests that locums have become a permanent component of the veterinary clinic team mix. As such, it is reasonable for clinics to seek to maximise the performance of their locums. Several operators question the return on investment from locums working within their practices, with one questioning whether locums realise “they are expected to produce work at 5 x their daily rate.” The general sentiment from clinic operators can be summarised as wanting locums that have “more experience” but that are “less expensive”. Locums, in turn, feel their skills are under-utilised - hampering productivity.

Agencies are the most common source of locums, and this is reported to be an effective means of engaging locums, second only to personal recommendation. A clinic’s ability to attract and deploy locums most effectively is likely to be improved by understanding the motivations of locum team members. In our survey of 93 veterinary locums, flexibility (83%), followed by better pay (69%), was the most come reason for becoming a locum. It strikes us that these same motivators may also be instructive in attracting and retaining permanent staff.

The majority of locums feel valued by the practices for which they work, and 90% find the experience of locuming to meet or exceed expectations. While, as noted, a significant minority feel practices underutilise their skills, this was found to be the least important factor in selecting a locum placement.

Rank ordered factors in selecting a locum placement:

  1. Location

  2. Pay

  3. Dates

  4. Friendly and welcoming staff

  5. Work environment

  6. Length of assignment

  7. Surgical or clinical caseload

  8. Skills utilisation

Temporary staff have become a permanent reality at many veterinary clinics. It is, therefore, increasingly important - both in terms of clinical and commercial outcomes - that locums are deployed effectively. Moreover, we would suggest that clinics best able to deliver on the locum value proposition of well-remunerated, flexible work for their whole team will find that they are the least likely to need locums, and will have their pick when they do.

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