Questions to Ask a Potential Locum Agency Before Signing Up
If you're preparing to locum in your F3 Year then you may be feeling overwhelmed by the number of decisions you now need to make. From choosing a locum agency to optimising your CV to comparing locum rates - there is a lot you need to understand before you start working as a locum. It is likely that up until now you’ve been told what work you will be doing and what hospital you will be working in without much say in the matter.
Now, as you prepare to step off that treadmill of training, you may feel disoriented by the vast options available to you as a locum doctor. The good news is that the right locum agency can make this transition seamless, but how do you know which agency is the right one?
When you sign up for Messly’s Locum Finding Service, many agencies will pitch you on locum work that matches the preferences you’ve listed on your profile. If you’re interested in their pitch then they will likely ask you to set up a registration call. All of the agencies that work with Messly have been pre-vetted so you know they are the best of the best, but that doesn’t mean that the will all be right for you. During that registration call, you should ask some key questions to find out whether what that agency can offer will work for you, and see whether you think you’d be a good match for each other.
The registration call is not a commitment to joining the agency, and you do not need to sign up with an agent just because you agree to a registration call. You can use the call as an opportunity to learn more about locuming, identify weaknesses in your CV, and get an idea of what the locum market in your area looks like. Learn more about registration calls here.
This article will guide you in choosing the right locum agency to meet your particular needs. This will be different for everyone, but the key is asking the right questions - both to potential agencies but more importantly, to yourself.
❓ Questions to ask yourself, before speaking with locum agencies.
🤔 What do I want to achieve by locuming?
Before you launch into registration calls with potential agencies, it is important to ask yourself what you hope to achieve by locuming. Are you looking to get specific specialty experience to bolster your training applications? Do you want to earn the most money you can so you can travel or buy a house? Or maybe you want to take on less stressful or demanding work so that you have more time for yourself, your friends, or you family?
Whatever your motivation for locuming you should keep this intention in clear focus in your mind. If you can communicate your goals to potential locum agencies, then it will be easier for them to let you know whether or not they have the kind of work you are looking for.
👉 What are my boundaries?
Consider how many shifts per week you want, whether you want to work intensely in batches or have a slow and steady routine. Would you be willing to commute long distances, or stay somewhere far from home for days or weeks at a time, or are you only willing to work at one or two local Trusts only. Decide your boundaries for pay and whether you are willing to be flexible with these. Do you intend to work days only, or are you willing to work antisocial hours, nights and weekends?
Knowing and communicating your boundaries early on is helpful for potential agencies as it can help them determine whether the work they have on offer is right for you. If you are unsure, vague, or change your mind often then it is much harder for them to identify the right work for you. But by stating with confidence the work you would not be willing to do, potential agencies can narrow the job search and determine how well they would be able to find you the work you’re looking for.
For example: Let’s imagine that you have set a personal boundary of a 30 minute commute from your home and you are not willing to stay overnight away from home. If you speak to a potential agency who says they have lots of work at a Trust 50 miles away from you but nothing closer, then perhaps that agency is not the right one for you! If you think that your boundary is a bit flexible then you can always give the agency a go (after all, we do recommend signing up with more than one locum agency) but you’ll probably find that though this option may tide you over, it is not sustainable for you in the long run.
❓ Questions to ask locum agencies.
Which regions or Trusts do they tend to cover?
If the agency has little or no work in the region or Trust you want to work within, then you should consider whether you would be willing to work in another area, or whether perhaps the agency is not right for you. Of course, agents can always reach out to new areas and be very successful in finding you work outside of the areas they typically work in, but it may mean waiting around while they form new connections and learn about the needs and opportunities in the area you want to work. It is worth noting that some Trusts do not work with agencies at all and instead rely solely on Bank staff. So don’t assume if an agency is active in your area that they will be able to get you work in a particular Trust.
Read more about the benefits of agencies versus staff banks.
🩺 What kind of work do they tend to offer?
If you are looking for a long term locum commitment then you should find out whether a potential agency is able to find and organise this kind of work. In this scenario, you may be happy to accept an agent who works part-time but can negotiate a better rate or deal for you because once the job is set up you may not speak to them for a couple of weeks or months depending on how long the role is.
If you prefer ad hoc shifts, then you’ll need an agency that is dynamic, responsive, and can act quickly. For work like this, you may be speaking to your agency daily, and need someone who can respond to you quickly and during anti-social hours. Ask about your potential agents schedule, how many other doctors they’re working with, and how quickly they can respond to offers.
By communicating your work preferences with a potential agency, and being consistent and clear, then you and your agent can form a great relationship where you both support each other to get the best work you can.
Read more about how locum agencies and hospitals work together.
🗓️ Are there currently shifts available in the specialty you want to work in?
If your ambitions for locum work are about gaining specific experience in a particular specialty, then you should be upfront about this with any potential agents. It may mean that they need to have connections in this specialty across several regions in order to find the work that you want. At your registration call, ask them what work they currently have a available in a particular specialty to find out whether it is something that is already on their radar, or will perhaps require a bit more work and effort on their behalf to find you the work you want.
📱 How will they contact you about work?
If you want a personalised approach, then an agency who has a dedicated recruiter for you may be your preference. However, if you want 24/7 support then you may prefer an agency with a big team who can support you around the clock, in which case, a named agent may not be top priority for you.
Some agencies will ring you with job opportunities, others may send you a text, and some even sent out weekly or daily email updates to several doctors at once. Ask potential agencies about the methods they use so you can think about how it will fit into your lifestyle.
💷 How does booking shifts and pay work?
Following on from the last point, establish how exactly you will book onto shifts. Is it first some first serve within the agency, or is there competition between agents in terms of whose client will accept the lowest rate for the work?
It is also important to establish how you will be paid - is it monthly? Weekly? Are you paid directly by the Trust or does your pay come through the agency? Is tax and national insurance deducted or will you have to do a personal tax return at the end of the year? Will you be placed onto an emergency tax bracket and if so, is there someone within the agency who can support you throughout the process of claiming back on your taxes if needed?
Having payslips and being paid more regularly can make tracking missed payments much easier and less time consuming. Even better if the agency can track missed payments on your behalf. You may also find that more regular payments means you can build empty coffers faster which is useful if you have recently had some big expenses like purchasing a house or coming back from a long holiday or time off work.
🤝 Will the person you are speaking with become your dedicated recruiter?
Sometimes you just know whether or not you will work well with someone based on a conversation. If you have built a good rapport with the person you are speaking with, and get positive vibes about their style and methods then having them on your team going forward can make locum life feel more supported. Having someone you trust and get on well with can make a potentially isolating job feel more comfortable.
👉 What perks do they offer, particularly regarding appraisal and revalidation?
Appraisal is one of the more stressful parts of leaving training, not because it is difficult, but because it can be confusing and there has, until recently (when Messly launched our Portfolio Companion, and our Ultimate guide to your Portfolio), been a distinct lack of support and information about it available to non-training doctors.
The main question you should ask any potential agency is whether or not they offer an appraisal and revalidation service, whether there is a charge for it, and whether there are any requirements (such as minimum shifts or hours per month) you need to fill in order to qualify for the service. If you aren’t eligible for a free NHS appraisal, then private appraisals can set you back a few hundred pounds. If an agency is willing to cover that cost for you or offer a free appraisal then this is a big deal and can save you lots of stress and money down the line.
It will also mean that you have a dedicated support service when navigating this complex and potentially stressful situation, which is a bonus that shouldn’t be ignored.
🩺 What next?
If you think an agency is not a good fit, you can ask for your contact details to be removed from their system, but you don’t need to do this immediately if you want time to mull over the information you’ve been given. If you don’t ask for your details to be removed, expect them to get in touch with you again as they will probably assume you want to proceed to registration.
If you are unsure about the agency feel free to tell them that you will be speaking to several other agencies and you will get in touch once you have made a decision about whether or not you want to proceed to registration (signing up for the agency). You do not need to (nor should you feel pressured to) commit on the spot.
Once you have decided which agency/agencies to move forward with, you won't be able to start working until you have completed the registration process for each agency you are joining. Registration can take some time, particularly if you don't have your necessary documents ready to hand (Messly Docs service can help with this!) so it is worth choosing the right agency for your particular work needs so that you don't waste time going through a lengthy registration process for an agency that doesn't have the right work for you. You can learn more about what the registration process entails here.
This article is part of a wider series, supporting doctors like yourself with a comprehensive set of guides to ensure your F3 year is a success. These guides 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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