Getting Started as a Locum
Whether you're starting to think about the possibility of locum work for the first time, or are actively looking to get started, there's a lot of uncertainty involved if you've never done it before. Don't worry, it's not as daunting as it seems.
To make this process easier for you, this article will help you get to grips with everything you need to know when you're getting started as a locum. We'll cover what we call “the locum mindset” which you'll need to thrive while working as a locum, and explain the main tasks you’ll need to work through before you start.
If you’re still unsure about whether locuming is right for you at this stage, we recommend first checking out our article, Is Locuming Right for You?
👍 Having the Right Mindset
If you're going to succeed as a locum doctor, you almost need to approach it like you're running your own one-person business. You're the CEO, the marketing director, the finance director, and the service provider, responsible for making it all work.
This might sound a bit extreme, or somewhat of a cliché, but it's true. You have to take the initiative and market yourself as a doctor, because finding locum work can be very competitive. The more energy you invest in winning the best locum shifts for yourself, the more choice you'll have over where and when you work, and how money you'll make.
Of course, you want to ensure you're managing your finances properly as well. Not only is this important so you can budget well and stay afloat if your opportunities dry up at any stage, but also to achieve any financial goals you set yourself during your time as a locum.
That means working on the following things in advance, all while still fulfilling your clinical duties:
Research and familiarise yourself with how locuming works, and how to find the best opportunities.
Investing time to get your CV and other documents prepared, to help yourself stand out as a candidate.
Having a clear financial plan in place to ensure you'll be well supported during your time spent locuming.
We call it "the locum mindset" because it takes some organisation, assertiveness, and determination to be successful as a locum. Before committing, ask yourself if you're willing to put in the effort in the areas mentioned above.
If so, here's what you need to do to get started as a locum.
✅ Getting Started
There are some specific tasks that you'll need to complete to prepare yourself for the move into locum work. To get yourself started as a locum, we'd suggest following these steps:
1️⃣ Start hunting for work
Decide which hospitals, specialties, and type of shifts you want to work in
Before looking for work, you'll need to decide which specialty or specialties you want to locum in, and what locations you want to be based in. Once you've done that, you'll also benefit from thinking about a few hospitals you'd like to work in. This will make it easier for you to search for locum work and find the type of opportunities you want when talking to banks and agencies a little later down the line.
Research the rates and availability of work in your chosen hospitals or regions
To make this as straightforward as possible, we've written an article that will guide you through this, with a breakdown the hourly rates you can expect to earn as a locum doctor across all grades.
If you’d prefer to dive into the stats, we’ve collected and analysed our 2021 data from our locum service, where we featured over 40,000 individual locum jobs on our platform. We’ve turned this into a number of data-driven articles to help you understand more about the hourly rates you can command at your grade, broken down by specialty and region. You’ll find all these useful articles in our Locum Data Hub here.
Write a CV that stands out
This is a very important step for anyone hoping to succeed as a locum. Your CV is often your first interaction with a prospective employer, and a great CV will increase your ability to land more roles, so it needs to be as impressive as possible. You should also tailor your CV to be to specific to the opportunity you're applying for each time.
This is a large topic in itself, and we won’t be able to cover it in full detail here. Fortunately, we have detailed guide to ensuring your CV stands out which you can find here.
Find the best recruitment agencies and staff banks
The two main ways to find locum work are either through a locum agency or work as part of a Trust's staff bank. Working with a good recruitment agent at an established agency will make a huge difference to your experience as a locum doctor. That’s why we recommend taking the time to look around for the best agencies.
Similarly, if you decide to work for a staff bank, it's beneficial to try and build a strong relationship with your rota co-ordinator, There are also some fundamental differences between banks and agencies that you should be aware of, which you can learn more about in our related article linked here.
It's worth noting that you can register with multiple agencies and banks as well. Once you've found agencies and banks you're happy, we'd recommend registering with two or three agencies and one or two banks to maximise the number of opportunities you'll have access to. This will give you more chance of getting the type of work you want at the best rates. You can find more information on this in our articles below.
To learn more about finding the best locum work available, check out our article, How to Get the Most from Your Locum Agency.
Check out Messly’s locum service
To make finding great locum opportunities even easier, another option is to use Messly's faster, simpler, and more transparent way of looking for locum work.
We give you access to locum opportunities from all the best agencies, managed through our easy-to-use app. Doctors using Messly get better rates, less travel, and their pick of the very best jobs. Find out more about how we differ to agencies here.
We’ve been trusted by over 6,000 doctors in the last year to find locum work, and are rated 4.8* by doctors on TrustPilot. It works for doctors of all grades, across the whole of the UK, for work in the NHS and private sectors. Click here and enter your GMC number to get started!
2️⃣ Manage your own finances, including pensions and tax
As mentioned earlier, when working as a locum doctor you’ll be in charge of your finances. As a result, you'll need to do some planning ahead before you make the change. Here's some guidance to make this process easier for you:
Review your financial situation and plan ahead
You should start by carefully calculating all your monthly expenses, such as rent, bills, and essentials like food, then determine how much you’ll need to earn to make ends meet.
Obviously, you should plan to earn more than just your basic cost of living, but it’s important to start with the minimum. You should also factor in enough to begin building up a savings pot for a rainy day, as you won’t be guaranteed sick pay (apart from SSP) as a locum.
For a comprehensive guide to ensuring you'll be able to have a comfortable year while locuming, read our article, How to Make a Living as a Full-Time Locum.
Learn about the key financial requirements
Some crucial things to look into before going into locuming are making sure that you're paid with the right tax codes, understanding your National Insurance contributions, and also managing your pension.
If you've never had to deal with these kind of things before, it can be difficult to even know where to begin. To help ease these challenges, we've written a detailed guide to help you with these important processes.
Consider working through a limited company
You may want to consider the option of locuming through a limited company. This is essentially a method of having more control over things like your salary, dividends, and a private pension, which could potentially be more tax-efficient overall.
Please note, in most situations, this no longer viable within the NHS since the introduction of the IR35 rules. However, for a select few, such as GPs doing private work, or specialty doctors working almost purely privately, then this can be a worthwhile venture.
Keep track of your timesheets and payments
Another aspect of locuming you'll need to get used to is tracking your hours, and keeping up with how much you're due to be paid for all your work. No one else will do this for you, so make a note to keep accurate timesheets and get every timesheet signed on time.
You should also make digital copies and keep things organised for future reference, in case your payments aren't received and you need to raise this with your Trust or agency.
Learn how to understand your payslips
Be prepared to spend a weekend, or a few evenings, to get up to speed with this. You'll have to learn how to check your payslips to make sure you're getting paid the correct rate and that all their deductions are all correct. Once you’re up and running, you’ll only need a few hours here and there to keep your paperwork in order. Our article 'decoding your locum payslip' will help you get to grips with this.
Most locums say that the extra admin is well worth the effort when considering the financial rewards, flexibility, and better work-life balance that they've gained when working as a locum.
📚 Further Reading and Helpful Resources
Check out our Locum Doctor Hub for a comprehensive resource library made up of an extensive range of articles and guides, covering everything you need to know about locuming.
If you're currently an F2 doctor considering your options for your F3 year, we also have a broad selection of in-depth articles and guides to help you in our F3 Resource Hub here.
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.