Locums - Develop your freelance GP career

Dr Lynda Carter has ideas for peripatetic locums on improving clinical skills and job satisfaction.

Dr Lynda Carter: ‘Think about the attributes that are useful to locums’ (Photograph: UNP)
Dr Lynda Carter: ‘Think about the attributes that are useful to locums’ (Photograph: UNP)

Career development is essential personally and professionally for all GPs, but is it more difficult to achieve for locums as we move around from job to job. Luckily we do have some options for progressing career-wise.

Career branding
Try developing your own personal 'career brand'. To do this you need to be aware of your own qualities and of how others perceive you professionally

Think about the attributes it is useful for locums to possess. For example, are you reliable, friendly, approachable, punctual, organised, flexible? If unsure of how colleagues perceive you, ask them to give you three words describing you professionally.

Decide on the positive qualities you want to be known for and cultivate these in yourself. As a locum you need to market yourself as your own brand to get work, to be asked back and to enhance your career.

Unique selling point
Having a unique selling point (USP) can be very useful. Is there a clinical area that you are personally interested in or for which there is a need locally?

Locums can offer services such as minor surgery, family planning or sexual health clinics. If there is a clinical area you are interested in, research the opportunities for sessional work before you commit to any training.

Maybe your USP is being able to work on Saturdays or do evening surgeries, providing cover during school holidays or for single-handed GPs when they are away.

Out-of-hours work will also further your skills in telephone triage, managing emergencies in primary care and visiting patients you have not previously had contact with.

Teaching
If you think you could do this find out about any opportunities in your local area. Consider:

  • Approaching the local vocational training scheme and suggesting you run a session for GP registrars about working as a locum.
  • If you are doing a longer term locum stint covering maternity leave, say, or regular sessions at practices, you may be able to get involved with medical student teaching or supervising nurse practitioner, FY2 doctors or GP registrar surgeries.
  • Contacting your local medical school's primary care department.
  • Asking local sessional GP groups or other educational groups in if you can put on a session.
  • You may want to organise some training such as a Postgraduate Certificate in Education in Primary Care. Find out what teaching courses your local deanery runs.

Clinical knowledge
How do you keep your clinical knowledge up to date as a locum? You can use the internet, go on courses, attend local education events and join educational groups. Online resources include GP's website Healthcare Republic and the RCGP's Essential Knowledge Updates and its e-GP learning modules. There are national general clinical update courses as well as local and national courses for specific learning needs.

As a self-employed locum you must pay for any professional courses so spend wisely and be sure to claim all the tax relief you are entitled to.

Practices you work for may let you attend their own educational meetings and your PCT may hold regular educational meetings.

Educational groups
Joining one or more groups is also important, especially for networking and support from your peers as working as a locum can be isolating.

A group may hold a monthly educational event sponsored by a drug company. Or there may be a local sessional GP group for locums and salaried GPs.

Find out about groups in your locality by asking other sessional GPs, your primary care organisation, the LMC and RCGP faculty.

If there is no sessional GP group in your area consider setting one up.

Career development
  • Think about the professional attributes you want to be known for and cultivate your own 'career brand'.
  • Do you have a unique selling point? Can you develop one?
  • Consider developing skills in family planning, sexual health, minor surgery, out-of-hours work or teaching and training.
  • Other areas to consider include are prison work, A&E, medical journalism and training to become a GP appraiser.
  • Keep your clinical knowledge up to date by using online resources, going on courses and attending educational events.
  • Find out about local educational groups in your area and get involved.
  • Dr Carter is a locum GP in West Yorkshire

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