Dr Mahibur Rahman
This is a common starting point for many newly qualified GPs, with some doctors choosing to work as a freelance GP long term. In this article we will look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of working as a GP locum.
As a freelance GP, you can have more control over where and when you work. If you wish to take time off during school holidays, or go for an extended trip, you are free to do so without needing authorization from anyone else. If you wish to spend 6 months working just a few sessions a week you can. If you need extra money for a specific purpose, you could increase your working week temporarily. If you do not like the way a particular practice works, you can choose not to book more shifts there.
Being self employed
As a locum, you are your own boss. You can set your own rates, and most locums can earn more per day than most salaried GPs and some partners. As a self employed contractor rather than an employee, you are also able to claim many more expenses against your tax bill, further increasing your take home pay.
A change is as good as a rest
Sometimes working in different environments, and being able to go in, deal with the patients then leave, without getting involved in internal politics or bureaucracy can be very refreshing. It also allows you a chance to see different ways of working, to take examples of good practice from different places, and also to see what does not work well. Working several sessions as a locum can give you a really good understanding of whether a practice would be a good place to work long term before committing to a salaried position or a partnership.
As a locum, you can realistically make a £100,000+ a year working full time if you are willing to put in some hours covering evening and weekend shifts. If you prefer not to work evenings and weekends, you could still earn over £75,000 per year working less than full time. Working 26 hours per week at a realistic average rate of £70 per hour with 6 weeks leave, 2 weeks bank holidays, and 2 weeks study / CPD time (total 10 weeks without any earnings) gives an income of £76,440.
One of the big drawbacks with working as a locum is living with uncertainty. There is no guarantee that you will be able to work as many sessions as you would like, or that practices will be willing to pay the rates that you had hoped to charge. In some areas there are many trained GPs fighting for both salaried posts and locum sessions, while in others there is no shortage of work. Agency locum rates have gone down in the last year in some regions. You may not know exactly how much you will earn from month to month, or exactly where you will work from day to day. For some people this is not really a big issue, but others find it difficult to cope with a variable income when they have large fixed costs to deal with each month (e.g. paying the rent / mortgage, bills, childcare, schooling costs etc.). Some locums will, over time get most of their work from a few regular practices, so that you might have a fairly fixed amount to your income, with the variation limited to the number of additional sessions that are available each month.
Being a locum can be very lonely. In many practices, you will arrive for your session, be shown to your room by the practice manager or a receptionist, see 18 patients in 3 hours, then leave, without seeing or talking to any other colleagues. This can be a bit of a shock to newly qualified GPs who have had the regular contact that comes with being in a training practice, as well as the pastoral benefits of being in a VTS group. If you are doing the odd sessions in many different practices, it can be difficult to build relationships with the team.
No employment rights
As a locum, you are a self employed contractor, so you do not have any of the rights a salaried employee would have. This means no paid holidays, no paid study leave, no sick pay, no automatic increase in pay and no job guarantee / entitlement to redundancy pay. Of course you can take this all into account when setting your rates and calculating how much you will have to work in order to make enough to meet all your expenses and still have a decent amount of time for holidays and study leave. You will also need to make provisions to cover your expenses if you are off sick or unable to find work for some time.
Continuing Professional Development / Revalidation
Working as a locum GP can make it more difficult to engage in CPD – for example, you may not have the opportunity to attend weekly clinical meetings or journal clubs. Although the proposals for revalidation are not yet finalised, there are suggestions that it will be more difficult for any GP not working in a managed environment (e.g. salaried / partnership) to meet the requirements for revalidation. Taking part in complete audit cycles for example, can be quite difficult if you are not working regularly in any one practice.
In some areas, you may find that you need to be willing to travel quite large distances to ensure that you have enough work. This can lead to increased expenses, increased tiredness and stress if you have to travel in peak times.
Like any job, there are both advantages and disadvantages to working as a locum GP. Hopefully this article is a good starting point to thinking about how this style of working might suit you. If you are thinking of starting out as a locum and have questions, please feel free to ask the Emedica community.
If you have been working as locum for some time, or recently started, please post a comment and share your tips and advice for new locums.
Dr Mahibur Rahman is the medical director of Emedica, and the author of GP Jobs – A Guide to Career Options in General Practice. He is the course director of the popular Emedica “Life after CCT: GP Careers Course” for GP Registrars in ST3 coming to the end of training and newly qualified GPs.