How My Locum Agency Helped Me Out of a Rut
Hi, I’m Amelia. I’m an F5 junior doctor and Clinical Lead at Messly. Since leaving training I have worked as a locum doctor in both community and District General hospitals, as a clinical fellow, and in private industry. In this article, I’ll share my personal experiences of how my locum agency helped me out of a mental and financial rut in my F3 Year.
👉 How it Began
In February of my F2 Year, the covid-19 pandemic struck. I spent the last few months of my foundation training programme working on a respiratory unit as life as I knew it fell apart. By the end of the year, I was burned out and in shock. I’d spent the last two years planning and saving for my dream F3 Year, but when it finally arrived the World had locked down. I finally had all the freedom I’d wished for in a World where I couldn’t travel, hug friends, visit family, or even sit on a bench and have a sandwich outside.
The epic adventure I’d planned was cancelled.
I accepted a few locum Bank shifts at my foundation Trust but found that I was awkward and nervous - second guessing all of my decisions and feeling anxious all the time.
I didn’t have the energy or willpower to work through my fears and struggles, so instead I permitted myself myself to live off the savings I’d put together for the trip I was now unable to go on. I stopped working altogether with a weight lifted off of my shoulders.
When my lease ended in September, I moved back to my family home in London. My family had decided to return to America, so I offered my help pack up the flat. I told myself I was only in London temporarily and told myself that I should focus on helping them with the move instead of looking for work. The flat took longer than anticipated to sell - London having become a less desirable place to live when you couldn’t leave the house - so weeks of unemployment stretched into months.
I kept telling myself everything was okay as I watched the numbers in the savings account go lower and lower. But the uncertainty of where I was going to live next, and my deep-rooted aversion to returning to the hospital setting that I’d found so distressing for the last year kept me from looking for locum work.
In January, my partner and I decided to move to the South West for a domestic version of the adventure we’d planned pre-pandemic. We found a flat that was slightly over budget (after all, we were not the only millennials who decided to make such a move during lockdown) and my savings account took a big hit. It took us weeks to unpack and dedicated myself to that task and exploring our new home county.
At the 5 or 6 month mark I realised I’d moved nearly as many times in F3 as I’d actually gone to work, and I finally told myself I needed to do something urgently about it. By now, the memories of my covid-19 experiences didn’t feel as powerful or as close as they had before the move. Or perhaps, the worries about my finances were growing to the point where they rivalled my worries about returning to work.
I tried contacting the Staff Bank of my local Trust but found them unresponsive, erratic, confusing, and unhelpful. After weeks of struggle, I signed up for Messly’s locum finding service, and spoke with a few Locum Agencies. I didn’t have the energy to fight for work I didn’t really want to do. I was ready to hand over the reins to someone else.
I decided to go with Holt. I got a good feeling from the Agent I’d spoken to and the Agency seemed proactive and engaged. I proceeded with registration and though it took several weeks to get all of the documents together I found the Agency helpful, responsive, kind, and easy to work with. Eventually, all the paperwork was sorted and I was (on paper) ready to start working again.
But I was scared.
👉 Scared that the hospitals would be as chaotic as they were at the peak of the pandemic.
👉 Scared that I had forgotten how to be a doctor.
👉 Scared I would make a mistake.
👉 Scared I would look foolish.
👉 Scared to have no network, friends, or support anywhere new that I worked.
🩺 Getting Out
I had a number of calls with my Agent - explaining my worries. He was patient and attentive and, based on my needs, he found me some work at a Trust a few hours away.
It was a small hospital where I would be working with a team around me to ease me back into work. It was a run of shifts over 3 weeks, with no out of hours work and no weekend commitments. I wasn’t ready to start with 5 days a week so he eased me in with 3 or 4 shifts at a time.
I’d have to stay locally while I worked there but he arranged accommodation for me and negotiated an increased rate for me given the distance from home.
He contacted the hospital for specific details about parking permits, hospital maps and information about what time handover was and which room I should meet the team in. He gave me the name of consultant I’d be working with, and the contact details for himself, the ward, the rota coordinator, and the hospital HR in case I ran into issues on the day. He made sure I had badges, IT logins, door access codes, and scrubs.
All of this helped me feel confident for two reasons.
✅ My anxieties around being lost, late, or looking foolish were abated.
✅ By accepting the burden of information-gathering, he helped me feel like we were a team.
He couldn’t help me with the actual work of being a doctor, but he made sure that everything he could support me with, he did.
I was able to earn enough with this short run of work to tide me over for a few weeks. Thanks to locum pay rates, I earned double what I would have as a foundation trainee which softened the blow of returning to a job I didn’t want to do. More than that, it helped me feel confident in my ability to do the job of a locum SHO. By working in a new environment with a new team, I felt closer to the capable and convivial junior doctor I was pre-pandemic than the panicked and insecure wreck I had become.
By finding me the right work for the right pay at the right time with the right support, my agency had helped me climb out of the rut I had found myself in, and couldn’t escape on my own. Since then I have continued to grow in confidence and ability, and have enjoyed successful F4 and F5 Years. I owe so much of this growth to my Locum Agency, and the Locum Agent who became my teammate when I was at my lowest.
If you have found yourself struggling to find work in your F3 Year so far, do not worry. In my experience, the biggest hurdle in getting work as an F3 was my own fears and attitudes towards working.
Choosing to take time out of training can be isolating - socially, emotionally, and even geographically if you move away from your support networks. But having someone like your Agent on your team can help give you strength and courage to transition back into work or try working somewhere new.
If you want to take time out of work during your F3 Year, that is OK! I found that taking the time out meant that, when I eventually did return to work, I was able to find a sustainable and empowering balance that worked for me. If I had thrown myself back into a stressful situation without consideration and support, I might have rejected a career in medicine entirely, instead of using my skills and experience to find a path that fulfills and sustains me.
If you feel anxious about starting locum work after time out, check out this article by Amelia in which she gives her top tips for addressing first-day anxiety. If you're a junior doctor or considering options for your F3 year and want to discuss any particular issues mentioned in this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a wider series of comprehensive guides and information to help doctors ensure their F3 year is a success. We cover everything from initial planning, options for moving abroad, help with finding work, and tips for making the most of the experience.
Click here to visit our F3 Resource Hub to explore the full list of guides and articles.
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