What makes a great locum?

What are the attributes that make the difference between great and someone to just fill a gap?

Locum doctors are essential for ensuring continuity of healthcare. They fill the gaps that arise due to unplanned absence, holidays, unfilled vacancies and help address any fluctuations in demand for care. At present, it’s fairly easy to draw a parallel between the locum role and the short-term redeployment that many doctors are experiencing during the current pandemic. Clinical competence is a must. But what else does it take to function well in a temporary position. What does it take to be a really great locum?

I recently discussed this question with two senior members of Athona Recruitment: Rebecca Coates, Sales Director for Psychiatry and Tanya Ironmonger, Sales Director Acute Medical Team. As an agency with a focus on quality, they were able to share their insights drawn from the feedback they seek from the teams and organisations they support.

Why locum?

Rebecca’s first observation was about motivations. There are many good reasons for a doctor deciding to take on locum work. They may be driven by specific family circumstances or to fit with a positive lifestyle choice. It may well be a career development choice. Some want to gain experience of working with a different patient demographic or try out a different geographic location. Some want experience of working in a different sized organisation, with different equipment or where there is opportunity to focus on a specific interest. Motivations matter as they inevitably inform attitudes and behaviours.

The proactive team player

Tanya raised adaptability as an essential requirement. Any reasonably established team will have developed ways of working and internal processes. The arriving locum must take proactive steps to clarify how the team works: who is responsible for what; what should be left where; what are their current challenges; how are they trying to solve them; and how they will support continuity of care after their placement ends.

So, we all agreed a great locum must be a great communicator. They must ensure that everyone concerned hears what needs to be heard – and that includes themselves. So, they must be able to get their message across and, at the same time, genuinely listen to their colleagues. This becomes a critical requirement if the locum recognises a problem, something which could be improved or is creating a risk. They must be able to raise issues and offer feedback to their temporary team in a constructive manner. In addition, they must know how to effectively escalate issues if they identify something which is definitely wrong.

A positive environment for a locum

We then discussed the fact that a locum’s performance is dependent on the other factors. Yes, as a temporary team member, they must have the right attitude, be adaptable and communicate effectively. However, the way that the permanent team welcomes and interacts with their temporary member is equally important. How can you expect the locum to know the team’s goals, processes or members’ roles unless it is explained to them?

So, the best teams ensure they welcome their temporary colleague and share this information. Their attitude is that this is someone who is supporting continuity of care, rather than a transient stop-gap. And they value the fresh perspective that the locum may have as a fresh pair of eyes on the way they are working. So, they ensure they review their experience together for mutual learning.

Development requirements

It follows that all doctors, however senior or junior, locum or substantive, need to become experts at forming and maintaining teams. These are skills which must be developed and refreshed throughout any career. There are clear benefits all round for patients, staff and organisations.

What are you doing to develop your team interaction skills?

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director

Oxford Medical are offering a 10% discount on any purchases made during February 2021 by doctors registered with Athona Recruitment.