Life as a Locum

Photo - Cary Cray-Webb and Alfred

Life as a Locum

What does it feel like to be a locum

(Cary Cray-Webb)

Since Autumn 2018 I’ve been working as a locum dental nurse (alongside my work with Precision PR). I left my job with BUPA during the spring and spent most of the summer decorating the house and writing articles about staff retention and workplace stress. Having got a lot of stuff off of my chest about the frustrations of working in general dentistry, I decided it was time to get back to nursing.

Photo - Cary Cray-Webb

Cary Cray-Webb

However, I realised that I didn’t want to go back to general dentistry – not just yet at least. I became a dental nurse because (coming from an art therapy and social care background) I wanted to make a difference to people’s lives. Maybe that’s naive, but I felt there had to be something that offered this. So I started looking around for a ‘public sector’ role so that, in (what my husband describes as) my liberal-lefty sort of thinking I could ‘give something back’.

Public sector roles

There are three main types of ‘public sector’ role for which I felt confident I had the right qualifications and experience; prisons, defence and community. I was a bit ‘warned off’ prisons by my Mum who had worked in prisoner education, plus the working hours in prison jobs near me weren’t what I wanted. So I applied for a couple of community jobs and a Defense Dental Service (DDS) job at a nearby barracks.

The result was that I didn’t get either of the community roles I applied for, but I did get an offer from the DDS. However, to anyone thinking of applying to the DDS, the recruitment process is VERY LONG.

As well as a slightly slow interview and initial offer process, you have to go through the same security checks as if you applied to Sandhurst or Cranwell to train as an officer. AND you have to go through extensive professional and employment references. The net is that I applied in early August and I expect my start date and final offer in late-February. The DDS isn’t a job – it’s a serious career choice!

Sit, wait and starve?

So, what to do? A great job offer promised to be ‘in the mail’ but no work for months to come?  I decided to consult some specialist recruitment companies about becoming a locum nurse.

After unproductive and disappointing discussions with a couple of well known (and generally well regarded) agencies, I found Sanctuary Personnel. They had a job that sounded great – a community post in Cambridge. The only downside is the journey. It’s 30-miles cross-country ending in a drag across the east side of the city in early rush-hour traffic. After the first day (where I got lost and late) it turned out to be a pleasant enough journey. But I had just bought a new car on a PCP and had planned to put on less than half that many miles for trips to work.

What’s the work like?

So 4-months in and I’m loving it. The work is great and varied, and my permanent colleagues treat me largely like one of their own – with a few exceptions. On the plus side, I rarely get allocated jobs such as Legionella testing or admin. On the downside, I get allocated to our VT most of the time. I don’t mind that as I have a deep-seated interest in training. But some others find it frustrating to work with VTs so that role gets allocated to a locum. And I’m last in the queue for booking holidays.

Another thing that I don’t like is being timesheeted. I hate filling in timesheets. However, Sanctuary has a very simple online timesheet system, so I simply tell my husband what time I start, how long my lunch was, and what time I finish. He then pops it into the timesheet system on my laptop for me to check on the weekend. I send it off on a Sunday and it’s approved on Monday. Money for last week’s work is in my account the following Thursday.

Time off

One other aspect that took a bit of adjusting to is ‘the doctor’. If I need to see a doctor, my own dentist or do anything with my child’s school, then I am so far from work that I essentially have to take off the whole day. But I’m paid by the hour, and I don’t get paid leave. That means a check-up at the dentist or a discussion with a teacher about my 12-year-old son’s latest transgression costs me about 100-quid in lost wages. So that’s pushed a few more household tasks onto my husband.

I guess the only other difference I can think of is less job security. As a locum, I’m on a week’s notice. Plus, my initial contract was supposed to run until 31st December. But I’m still here! I’m not sure if anybody has realised. But as I’m still turning up for work and still getting paid it’s fine by me.

Do I like it?

I have to say my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve dealt with domestic problems like over-using my car (I bring my husband’s car on days that he’s not using it). We’ve budgeted for me to work 4-days each week instead of 5. Now when I work 5-days it’s like a bonus and I don’t feel stressed about losing money to see the doctor.

Although I’ve only had one job since becoming a locum it has been continuous. The variety of patients and the types of problem we see is more diverse than I saw in general practice. And I have gained valuable experience as a community dental nurse (including a domiciliary visit to a housebound patient). So much so that my colleagues that have persuaded me that I ought to apply again for a full-time position at some point. Being a locum has therefore given me a gateway into a practice area I am really interested in.

Photo - Cary Cray-Webb and Alfred

Cary and Alfred getting ready for another week of commuting to Cambridge

So now I am still working as a locum but with two career possibilities. I want to pursue both and can’t make up my mind which to go for. Without becoming a locum I wouldn’t have got the experience I need for one and would have had to turn down the other as I couldn’t wait for the security checks. (At the time of writing, I still don’t have my final offer).

And while I decide what to do I am in a role that I love and spending far more time driving Alfred (my nice new C-HR) than I ever hoped – please don’t tell Toyota finance.

If you would like to share your experiences as a locum, please get in contact.

Cary Cray-Webb