Call the Cavalry!
How to make your way as a highly sought-after Locum practitioner.
Dr Rebecca Tolhurst
With an earlier, well established career as a contractor & locum for many different business styles over 12 years, Dr Rebecca Tolhurst explains what goes into the industry’s much needed locum role and what qualities are needed to support your host practitioner when they are away.
Because our industry is largely populated with single practitioner sole trader businesses, the locum role – filling in for others while they are away – is an integral part of its survival and sustainability.
Locums are needed for a variety of reasons – pregnancy and maternity or paternity leave, bereavement leave, family crises, personal health reasons, or just plain holiday fun.
For newer practitioners, it’s a really good way to get some varied experience. People who enjoy travelling and living in different places in our country are also those who are drawn to locum work, as are those who wish to enjoy a “working holiday".
Pros and Cons
There are positives and negatives to locum work. The positives are increased flexibility, no need to commit to full time fixed practice, and the feeling of being able to help not only patients, but also practitioners who desperately need your support, is incredibly rewarding. Often remuneration can be better than working at just one practice, and the ability to see how different practices run can really inform choices about what to do or not do, if and when you finally start your own. Many established practitioners would encourage new graduates to get out into the world of real-life Chinese medicine practice to look around and see how successful businesses run. It’s a great way to educate yourself and learn how to run a practice yourself, plus it gives you clinical diversity and experience.
Responsibility without Responsibility
Being a locum is a big responsibility and you need to remember that many practitioners have what they have created because of a lot of hard work, not because it magically appeared. So when you’re filling in, bear in mind that you are the custodian of someone else’s hard work, and treat it accordingly.
Behave with honour and respect the space, the equipment and the colleagues in it. Keep it tidy and try to fit in with the systems that are in place and do your best to fit in with the workplace culture and spiritual energy of the business. This includes security and care for the keys or codes, if that is what role you agree to.
Maintain confidentiality and adhere to contract terms and conditions.
Check what the host requires you to do. It may involve more than just treating patients and could be admin related as well, if they operate without reception.
Avoid contacting them while they are away and respect their boundaries, particularly with maternity or stress leave. They will often leave another person’s number for you to contact in case of emergency, so use it!
Remember that it’s a business that you are left in charge of, if that’s the agreement, not just a patient load, and for continuity of care of both the business and the patients, pay attention to the host when they request things of you, and do your best.
Ask for rates and superannuation forms before you start. Just because you’re temporary, doesn’t mean they get out of paying you properly.
Leave a mess behind, financially, spiritually or an untidy or unclean space.
Poach clients – it’s bad form, unethical and underhanded business tactics. You may have been asked to sign an agreement that prevents you from contacting or treating patients invoiced by the business. This is fair enough for business sustainability. Many locums poach clients or steal client lists in order to make more cash. The value of a business is largely defined by the client list, and stealing it is outright theft.
Breach privacy. You may also be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents you from divulging sensitive business or financial information to other parties. Not only do you need to keep patient details a secret, you also need to keep quiet about business tactics, advertising, financial information and external stakeholder relationships. Many, many businesses request this and it is a legal norm.
Accept an agreement that you’re not happy with. Most hosts are open to discussion about the agreement that they have in place for locums or contractors, so chat with them about any queries or alternate views that you have about what they expect from you. Locum work is a two way street and you have the right to peacefully object to contract clauses if you don’t agree that they are fair, or at least be provided with an explanation as to why they are there.
Deal with disgruntled patients yourself. Unless previously agreed, refer to management and ask them to contact via email rather than having an argument with them. It’s not your business and the owner may be able to sort it out themselves upon their return.
Expect to have full books. Many regulars may only wish to see “their” practitioner, mostly because they have built a strong clinical relationship with them, and you are a new person that they may or may not feel comfortable with. If that happens, don’t take it personally. Just go with the flow. It’s a usual occurrence when you’re filling in for someone who is busy.
If you do well, when you decide to start working as a locum, you will find that more work will come your way – you won’t have to advertise your availability, and you’ll most likely gather a positive reputation, and get chased up and asked to do the work if you follow the text box guide.
So, hopefully you have decided to take some positive career action towards getting involved in the sustainability of our industry and your own clinical experience by choosing to fill in for someone who needs a break. Sometimes it might even lead to ongoing work.
Dr Rebecca Tolhurst
Dr Rebecca Tolhurst is a busy clinic owner-operator, acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist in Daylesford, Victoria. With two Chinese medicine bachelor qualifications from Victoria University and a Graduate Diploma in Public Health, she is in her 17th year of clinical practice. Professional interests include Public Health, Health Equity; Community Acupuncture; Alcohol & Other Drugs/addiction therapy, detoxification, rehabilitation & recovery; mental health; global diversity in traditional plant-based health & spiritual care.