In order to obtain sufficient work as a locum GP it is important to do your research and to market yourself effectively.
Begin by defining the geographical area within which you can realistically work by estimating travel time. Search on the NHS Choices website for surgeries in your area and select those that interest you, taking into consideration the size of the practice, and how many doctors work there.
For example, bear in mind that if you are employed by a single-handed practice, you may find yourself working on your own and covering sessions out-of-hours. This may or may not suit your temperament and skills.
If you are new to locuming, a larger training practice might offer a more supportive environment.
Take part in our survey about your work as a locum you could win £100 of Amazon vouchers.
The survey is in partnership with the National Association of Sessional GPs.
Consider the demographics
Also look into the demographics of the areas you have pinpointed. If you have trained in a rural area, make sure you have adequate information about, and feel prepared to work in, an inner city practice (and vice versa). Consider walk-in centres as well as surgeries.
You may want to exclude surgeries that are close to your home or your children's schools to avoid seeing patients you know, or being approached by patients in the street, in shops or at the school gate.
This is not necessarily a problem; however, conflicts of interest and confidentiality can arise if acquaintances come to see you as patients. Of course, this can happen even if you work some distance from home and it is important to have clear professional boundaries.
Update your CV
Before applying for locum work, update your CV and highlight your contact details, ensuring that the format is concise and emphasises any skills that may particularly appeal to the practice you are approaching, such as languages, minor surgery, teaching experience or special clinical interests.
List the contact details of your referees, providing their email address, postal address and phone number. If you can cover school holidays or work flexibly (for example, extended hours) specify this in a covering letter, or flyer. Send this, with your CV, to the practice managers at your chosen practices.
Order business cards (some online companies offer them for free), stating your contact details, home telephone number, fax, mobile and email address, to help with networking.
Educational meetings organised by PCTs and postgraduate centres are a good opportunity to meet local GPs. If you are new to an area, contact the local GP tutor via the PCT, for information about local educational opportunities.
Ensure you are on the PCT's email list for educational events and cascades (being on the performers list sadly does not guarantee this) and contact postgraduate centres to be added to their mailing lists.
Contrary to the popular belief that locums neglect their continuing professional development (CPD), locum doctors are more often able to attend these meetings than principals.
If you manage your work-life balance effectively, keeping up-to-date (and meeting the demands of appraisal and revalidation) should not be a problem. However, locums do not receive paid CPD time, so take this into account when setting your rates.
Take your business card with you to meetings and advertise your availability as a locum while remembering that first impressions count.
According to Tessa Hood, managing director of Changing Gear, which provides workshops on personal branding, people take most notice of appearance and body language (55 per cent), then voice (38 per cent). Only 7 per cent of initial impact relates to your message.
Get in touch with the established network of sessional GP groups across the UK. Some groups have a purely educational role, while others are happy to circulate details of available locum work from practice managers to group members.
These groups can also be very supportive and help to confirm local rates, which helps when negotiating.
Possible work areas
Practices often advertise longer-term locums, such as maternity locums on LMC websites or in medical publications. Agencies also advertise and may stimulate your interest in areas you had not previously considered, for example, military, out-of-hours or prison work.
Other opportunities might include family planning work or travel clinics. If you are finding it difficult to get work, or have a particular interest, you could be proactive and advertise your own services in a journal or on your LMC website.
Some locums work directly for practices while others rely on agencies, and some do a mixture of both. Agencies are helpful when work is scarce and you are prepared to travel further afield, but when busy, it can be annoying to be inundated with distant offers of work.
If you don't have responsibilities and are free to travel you may choose to combine locuming further afield with catching up with friends and family in other parts of the UK. Some locums even spend half the year working in Australia. As a locum, the world really is 'your oyster'.
- Dr Miller is a freelance GP in west London