Working as a casual in the veterinary world has its pros and cons, and offers an unique vantage point for surveying the industry. Often viewed with suspicion or skepticism by pet owners, sometimes an in- house second opinion from a locum can offer a breakthrough alternative perspective..
.Locum is term used to describe a veterinarian or other professional employed on a casual basis, usually filling-in during illness or holidays. This itinerancy offers a unique position for surveying the profession: observing and comparing the wide array of clinical cultures and beliefs, practice protocols, practitioner and management styles, and the types of clients they attract. Some focused on welfare, others on business. Some tense and micro-managed, others relaxed and flexible. Some educated and open to new ideas, while others are more closed and fixed in their ways.
There is freedom from long-term commitment to a full-time position, or management stresses of partnership. At the end of the working day a locum can leave the building unburdened by thoughts of practice management and staff politics. Pay rates are often slightly higher than other employed vets, but rarely match those of practice owners.
An unexpected pleasure is that of helping out a colleague who is in desperate need of a break. A vet is vital cog in hospital machinery, without whom the enterprise is reduced to a pet store. Practice owners hit by sudden ill-health, family crisis, or just dire need for time off, and unable to find a locum may be forced to decide between suffering perseverance or business closure. Empathising with their situation, it’s rewarding when able to say ‘yes, I can help you’, disappointing when you cant.
These positives are balanced against the financial insecurities of casual employment and the challenges presented by constantly changing workplaces. While some professions are fully functional on keyboard and phone alone, veterinary locums need to cope with the idiosyncrasies of unfamiliar anaesthetic, dental, ophthalmic, microscope, x-ray, and surgical equipment. We often need to adapt our prescribing and anaesthetic protocols to pharmacies that may not stock our preferred drugs. Navigating unfamiliar workplaces and computer packages can cut efficiency and add stress.d
Another potential source of stress is the human dimension, both hospital staff and pet owners. A locum must be well prepared for the ‘we do it this way’ statements from vets and nurses whose work experience may not extend beyond their lone clinic. It’s important for hospital staff to understand that there are often many different ways to achieve a good outcome, not only the one with which they are most familiar. Conversely, locums shouldn’t overlook the opportunity to learn from a sushi-train of colleagues in clinics around the country.
Similarly, pet owners may be wary of accepting advice delivered by an unfamiliar face. Understandably, they may doubt whether a locum has a full grasp of their pet’s complex medical history, especially in cases of chronic disease. Conversely, an in-house second opinion, offered by a locum veterinarian, can occasionally present an owner with unexpected breakthrough perspective on their pet’s long-standing medical problem.d
- don’t consider it until you are comfortable with your levels of experience as you’re often left in sole charge of a clinic in regions where they may be no referral services;
- prepare yourself to be clinically versatile, especially with vaccination protocols, anaesthetic agents and anaesthetic machines;
- carry your own professional library – a VIN membership or digital resources are invaluable;
- follow-up on your cases, even after you’ve finished a contract, otherwise you lose out on case-based learning which, as we all know, is the most powerful.