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Living La Vida Locum

Being a veterinary locum is a popular career choice now. Unsurprisingly though there is much more to it than that, and while being a veterinary locum can indeed be a satisfying way to practice, it certainly isn’t for everyone.

I have now been a locum for 10 years, beginning after 4 years in a busy small animal hospital. Personally, this was more than enough preparation for me to head off into the world of independent work but I still went on a huge learning curve, both in terms of my clinical acumen and also of managing what effectively is a small business.

I had never sent an invoice, I had no idea what my daily fee should be, or if I should charge for over-time. I registered for VAT on the advice of my accountant but didn’t really understand what that entailed (it took a good couple of years before I sent in a VAT return without a mistake!), I kept a diary of jobs but constantly fretted about making a double booking or forgetting a placement. I started out with agencies but eventually began to take on direct bookings once my confidence (and admin skills!) grew.

Feeling hopeless

I was also not prepared for how hopeless I would be when I first started at a clinic. Not knowing where anything was kept, how the computer system worked or practice protocols made me feel like a constant irritation to the nurses who had to answer all my questions. In addition, there was the added stress of not having a forgiving colleague to call on for difficult cases or surgeries. In many clinics (and in my own head!), you are there to fulfil a role and are simply expected to get on with it.

Really what I could have done with was a comprehensive guide to how to locum, that covered all these points and many more.  It would really have helped me and ensured I was fully prepared for the path I had chosen to take! I’ve now written the BVA Guide to working as a locum to help people with just that.

Given I am still doing it, it can’t be all bad and certainly the one thing that stands out the most, from all the various clinics and hundreds of colleagues I have encountered, is how consistently brilliant our profession is. I have been a locum in affluent and deprived areas, referral practices, corporate chains, independents and charity hospitals. In all of them I met brilliant, skilled and knowledgeable people who were passionate about their jobs and their patients.

Being a veterinary locum can be a career choice, a stopgap or an add-on to a permanent position. It is a great way to experience our industry and all its many and varied clinical aspects. You need to be organised, independent, easy-going, flexible and extremely professional. It may not be for everyone, but for me it was a great decision as it has given me skills, experiences and friendships I would never have gained in a permanent role.

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