Living La Vida Locum

Posted on November 22, 2018 by Cat Henstridge

Being a veterinary locum is a popular career choice now and from the outside it can seem easy to see why. You are paid well, can rise above practice politics and take as much holiday as and when you like.

Unsurprisingly there is much more to it than that and while being a veterinary locum can indeed be a satisfying and rewarding 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.

Cat Henstridge

Written by Cat Henstridge

Cat Henstridge gives her thoughts on being a locum and introduces the new member resource which she wrote - BVA Guide to working as a locum.