Locums - Don't leave home without it

Dr Richard Fieldhouse provides pointers on what to take with you when heading out to do locum jobs.

Dr Fieldhouse: 'Buy a sturdy name badge and wear it as you walk into the surgery' (Photograph: Istock)
Dr Fieldhouse: 'Buy a sturdy name badge and wear it as you walk into the surgery' (Photograph: Istock)

Deciding what to bring with you when doing locum work at more than one surgery is so much more about thinking outside the box than figuring out what to keep in your bag.

It might be best to forget about what you were told during your GP training. In the real world of 'locuming', it is always wise to prepare for the worst and assume you will be working on your own, in a cupboard, in the middle of nowhere.

Conference: Maximise your potential as a locum GP
A one-day event for GP locums run by GP newspaper in association with the National Association of Sessional GPs.

This is the first GP event for GP locums, taking place on Wedndesday 6 October 2010 at Regents College, Central London. To find out more visit www.gplocumsevent.com.

Getting around
Satellite navigation systems are worth every penny, and will get you to your destination as hassle-free as possible. But they are not infallible, so do not expect yours to take you to the front door every time.

Do keep an umbrella in your car. Make sure you have emergency breakdown cover that includes getting you going from your home.

Locums are often perceived as an expensive luxury. As such, apart from illness or a funeral, turning up is a basic requirement. We can usually excuse being a little bit late, but a flat battery or tyre will grate.

Communications
Upgrade to a smartphone such as a Blackberry, iPhone or Android. Think of them as mini-laptops. As well as being a phone, you can synchronise your home or online calendar with them, send and receive email and store computer passwords for all the practices you work in.

You can also use them to search for clinical information on home visits, and keep records of interesting patients and spreadsheets for audit.

Although they can look rather silly, hands-free earpieces are also essential. Stuck in traffic? Lost? Do not risk losing your driving licence or, worse still, killing someone, because you are on the phone trying to get directions from your agency, locum chambers, practice or spouse.

Snacks and drinks
Even worse than not being offered a 'cuppa' by host practices is being offered a hot refreshment that simply does not materialise.

The obvious solution, of course, is simply to ask nicely and all will be resolved, but it does not hurt to regularly take a bottle of water with you, or even some fruit.

As you know, nightmare surgeries do happen, so a drink and snack will help. Being holed up in the same, sometimes unventilated and hot room, for hours at a time without a key to even open a window will only reduce your performance, give you a headache and make you very grumpy. Or maybe that's just me.

Identification
It has happened to us all. Your patient has turned up to reception to see their usual doctor, only for the receptionist to tell them that it will not be their usual GP, but 'just a locum'.

So rather than allowing their expectations to be dashed, create a set of your own 'GP profile', designed to inform the patient about your professional name and qualifications, a photo of you, as well as information about your training, special and even personal interests.

It is an extremely worthwhile measure to take, and the difference it makes to the patients in terms of their attitude towards you will be tangible.

Do not forget that it is not just the patients who will not know you. Buy yourself a sturdy name badge and wear it as you walk into the practice.

Once you reach the consulting room it may be worth providing your own professionally made nameplate to temporally attach to the door of the allocated room.

Doctor's bag
Most of us would agree that there are a few basic pieces of equipment that we cannot do without. Apart from the obvious stethoscope, sphygmomanometer and diagnostic set, I do not rely on practices to provide me with a thermometer or pulse oximeter.

I also carry my own drugs directory and Oxford Handbooks. I have a tape measure physically attached to my bag (I have left too many behind) and a tendon hammer. Everything else I expect the practice to provide.

Drugs
Ask 10 different locums and you will have 10 different opinions. What drugs you carry with you will depend on whether you do visits, how far away you are from an ambulance, and whether there are pharmacies to dispense to your patients in a timely way.

Some practices will provide drugs for visits, but it is still down to you to ensure they are in date and cover your needs. By far the best way to decide what to take is discuss this with your locum colleagues.

Referral forms
A good way to collect all the forms into one accessible place is to team up with other local locums to create an online file storage area.

One of the simplest and cheapest ways to do this is to use Google Apps which allows you to create a secure and easily accessible area for you and all your colleagues to share files.

Investing time to put all your equipment and stationery in order will repay your effort. It will reduce stress, increase productivity and just bring so much more enjoyment into the job.

Locuming can be extremely rewarding, so make sure you have the right equipment to do the job to the best of your ability. You will not regret it.

What You Need
  • Smartphone and hands-free earpiece.
  • Car breakdown cover.
  • Snacks and a drink.
  • Name badge, removable nameplate for the door.
  • Stethoscope, sphygmomanometer, diagnostic set, thermometer, pulse oximeter, tape measure and tendon hammer.
  • Drugs directory.
  • Online access to referral and other forms.
  • Drugs for home visits.

Dr Fieldhouse is chief executive of NASGP and clinical director of Pallant Medical Chambers, West Sussex

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