10 Places to Seek Emotional Support as a Locum Doctor
There are particular trade-offs that you have to balance as a doctor in the UK. As a trainee doctor, you may lack autonomy and control, and be overworked and underpaid, yet you will also have people overseeing and advocating for your well-being. Protected teaching and dedicated supervisors do to some extent provide support and protection for training doctors.
As a locum doctor, you get more control over your working and personal lives and get better pay. But, the trade-off is that you have to advocate for yourself much of the time. Your training and well-being are no one else’s responsibility to manage, but your own.
Often, it may seem on the surface that you have no one to turn to if you need some emotional support or advice as a locum, but we can confidently say that this is NOT true. While your emotional support network as a locum may not be as easily identifiable as it is for training doctors, it IS there if you know where to look.
🙏 Why a locum might need to seek emotional support
Locums are people, like anyone else. While locum life is generally perceived as cushy and luxurious, there are still elements to locum life that can be stressful:
🔹 Do you worry that you should be earning more per hour?
🔹 Do you worry that you aren’t going to make ends meet each month?
🔹 Are you insecure about how much you are working and feel that you haven’t done enough?
🔹 Are you going through a dry spell and struggling to find work?
🔹 Do you find mortgages, pensions, taxes, or maternity pay confusing?
🩺 Career Development
🔹 Do you struggle to advocate for yourself or compete with others to get work?
🔹 Do you find ‘selling yourself’ vulgar and uncomfortable?
🔹 Do you struggle to know where to take your career or worry that medicine wasn’t the right choice for you?
🔹 Do you worry about appraisal or feel uncertain about what is required of you?
🔹 Is finding learning and development opportunities overwhelming and do you worry that you’ve done the right things?
😕 Personal Circumstances
🔹 Has life thrown unexpected difficulties your way?
🔹 Has personal illness, the pandemic, the economic crash, or death in the family brought you unexpected misery, difficulty, stress or time away from work (and income) in the last year?
🔹 Do you worry about the lack of sick pay or compassionate leave pay for locums?
🔹 Do you feel lonely or isolated as a locum?
🔹 Does the lack of senior supervision as a locum make you feel insecure and self-conscious in your clinical decision-making?
🔹 Do you go home after shifts and worry about your work, your patients, and your clinical decisions?
🔹 Do you feel out of the loop compared to trainees or other doctors?
🔹 Do you feel scared to work in new Trusts, hospitals, or departments?
🔹 Do you feel hopeless about your career?
🔹 Are you uncertain about your rights as a locum doctor?
🔹 Do you second-guess yourself at work, or vulnerable from a medico-legal perspective?
As you can see, there are many reasons a locum might feel scared, anxious, vulnerable, or confused. Burnout is still possible for locum doctors despite what trainees might believe. You can read more about how locum doctors experience burnout here.
Sometimes, the solution is simply talking through your concerns and finding an empathetic person to lend an ear and a shoulder to lean on, and sometimes the answer lies in knowing your rights and making sure that you are adequately protected.
🤝 Who can locum doctors turn to for support?
Depending on the type of problems you are hoping to get help with, there are a large and diverse group of people to who you can turn to.
📱 Social Media
While it might seem strange to seek emotional support from social media, Facebook and Reddit are great platforms for connecting with other doctors. If you have a general question about other people’s experiences in other trusts or specialities, or advice on how to prepare for your appraisal then they are useful places to alleviate your minor worries or stresses. They also have the added benefit of anonymity if you are worried about posting under your real name or being identified.
🙏 Peer Group
While you don’t need to join a peer group as a locum doctor, there are many benefits that they can provide. We have a longer article about why we think peer groups for locums are a good idea, which you can read here. If you prefer to get support from a more trusted source who is more likely to understand your particular circumstances, then a peer group may be a great source of guidance.
👨👩 Friends and Family
Sometimes, a non-medical person or an intimate friend is the only person who you can go to for a particular issue. While this group may not be able to relate to a specific work scenario if they are non-medical, they may be able to provide insight from their own life experience. Everyone has had to deal with a difficult boss or client at some point, had made a bad decision at work, or has worried about finances. Maybe getting some outside perspective can be helpful.
💼 Your Agent or Rota Co-ordinator
If your worries are about the frequency of work or pay, then these are the best people to go to. Whether you want more work, or feel that you are working too much or doing shifts that don’t make you happy, communicating that to the people who can find you work is a good idea. Being clear about exactly what shifts might be right for you means that you are more likely to be contacted first when the right shifts are available.
🥼 Your GP
If you think that your mental or physical health is suffering (even short-term), then you should contact your GP. As an outsider, they can offer objective support, direct you to additional resources, and help manage any symptoms of anxiety or depression.
🫀 Occupational Health
This team are experts in workplace-based injuries and stress. If you are a long-term or regular locum at a particular trust or have been injured as a result of your work at a particular trust then you may find OH very useful. As an advisory service, they can often point you in the direction of further information or charities that can help.
☕️ Bereavement Team or Pastoral Care
If you have dealt with a sad or particularly affecting case, and need an empathetic team to sit with for a comforting cup of tea and a short break to recover, then the bereavement team are always a great place to go. You don’t need to practice any particular religion or necessarily have any spiritual beliefs to go and have a chat with Pastoral Care
⚖️ Your Medico-legal Protection
Making sure that you are adequately protected is hugely reassuring. If you are feeling vulnerable, speak to the advice line at your medico-legal protection service and if you have discussed a particular issue you have had that they have advised you on, make sure you have written documentation of your conversation including the name of the person you spoke with, the time the conversation took place, the topics you discussed, the outcomes you agreed, and the advice going forward that they have provided.
📞 GMC or BMA
As a locum, your rights will differ to those of a trainee, but you still have rights as a registered doctor working in the UK. If you are unsure of these or want to discuss your options, then speak to these regulatory or advocacy organisations to get advice and support.
Not only do we have an abundance of information and resources on our Locum hub, Locum Toolkit, Locum Academy, and blog, but if you’re using Messly’s locum finding service, you also have a dedicated account manager you can contact for advice and support at any time.
✨ Despite popular beliefs, locum doctors can feel stressed and anxious at times
✨ Locum doctors may feel that they have less of a support network but this is not necessarily true
✨ There are lots of people you can turn to for advice and support
✨ If you are struggling to find the right help, contact your dedicated account manager at Messly for further guidance or support.
The most important thing to remember is that you should not keep your worries or struggles to yourself. Communicate and escalate your questions and concerns to protect yourself and move forward in a way that feels good.
Your Ultimate Guide to Succeeding as a Locum Doctor
This article is part of a wider series of resources and guides that are designed to support you as a locum doctor, covering areas such as getting your first job, managing your finances, understanding your rights, and many more. Visit our Locum Doctor Hub for everything you need to know about locuming today.
Additionally, if you're considering an F3 year, you might also find it useful to look through the selection of resources we've put together in our F3 Resource Hub.”
Find locum work on your terms
The best locum agencies together in one place, competing to find you the best locum shifts. Managed for free through your Messly account.