Tips for Your First Day as a Locum Doctor in a New Hospital
If you're going to be spending your F3 year working as a full-time locum doctor, you'll need to be flexible about where you work. So, you may find yourself accepting shifts at hospitals you've not worked in before.
This can be a bit daunting, as you won’t have a formal induction period like you would on a training rotation.
This article will give you advice on how to prepare ahead of your first day as a locum doctor in a new hospital, and provide some tips to make your first shift go as smoothly as possible. We'll also help you make the most of the experience, with an aim to create opportunities for yourself to stay at the hospital on a longer term basis.
Once you’ve agreed to a shift in a new hospital, there are a few things you should do to make sure you’re prepared in advance .
Accept the booking terms and conditions or contract - The agency will usually email a link to an online system, where you'll find an electronic contract detailing the terms and conditions of the job. You'll need to accept these in order for a timesheet to be submitted.
Print out your timesheets - Generally, the locum agencies will have emailed you a blank timesheet with your booking confirmation in advance of your first shift. Once you begin work, you'll need to fill this in with your hours and then have it signed by a senior team member, usually a consultant or ward manager.
Check with the agency how you submit your timesheet - It's common that you'll be asked to email the completed form to your contact at the agency and they'll take it from there, but some places may ask you to upload it to an online system. It's always wise to double check.
Check your reporting instructions with the agency - Be clear about where and when you need to arrive for work, and if you need to bring anything with you. Most places will just want you to bring your agency ID badge, but some may ask for another form of ID such as a passport or driving licence.
Check your log-in details for hospital systems - Normally this is provided in a pack, with some welcome material and basic instructions on how to use the systems, when you arrive for your shift. However, sometimes the agency receives it in advance so you could have this ready before you arrive.
Plan your journey - Check how long the journey takes on Google Maps at a similar time of day to get an accurate estimate of how long it will take you to get there so you won't be late. If you live particularly far away, or are unsure of the best route, maybe test out the journey the day before just to be safe.
Check the parking situation - Many locum doctors will pay to park in a hospital car park near their ward for their first shift to avoid the stress of finding a space on nearby roads (and risk being late). If you're parking in a hospital car park, find out if you'll need cash or can you pay by card. If you're working long-term in a new hospital, you can always ask colleagues once you’re there to find out where they park, or look at getting a staff parking pass from the hospital (although are like gold dust in most places!).
Plan ahead for lunch - Make sure to check if you'll be able to buy food easily within your shift times, or find out whether you're better off bringing your own lunch along. Some bigger hospitals may have longer queues for food and drink than you're used to. Conversely, smaller hospitals might have a more limited selection. If you're unable to get a sufficient meal for lunch it may have a negative impact on your job performance in the afternoon.
Look at the hospital website regarding your area of work - It's beneficial to familiarise yourself with the ward names and a map of the site in advance, to check the areas you’re likely to be walking between. If you have even a rough idea of where you’re going to be working and how to get around before you turn up, it can make things a lot less daunting!
Research the consultants in your specialty - Look at the consultants listed on the hospital's website, just for a quick bit of research. This can make your first day a bit smoother as you'll already recognise the people you'll be working with, and removing the challenge of trying to remember lots of new names and faces all in one go.
On The Day
Making a good impression on your first day can really help you settle into a run of shifts in a new workplace. It can also open up opportunities for further work if you’re only down for a few shifts initially but would like more work in that specialty and hospital.
Be friendly and enthusiastic - There’s nothing worse than someone turning up for a shift who makes it clear they don’t want to be there! Make an effort with the people you'll be working with and bring some energy to the shift. It's especially good to get to know the rota co-ordinator (and tell them you’re looking for more work if you are!).
Be flexible - The role of a locum doctor is to fill a gap and provide a service, which can sometimes vary. For example, you may be told in advance that you're doing a 'take' shift which then becomes a 'ward cover' shift on the day, because of last minute changes. If you're happy with this and it doesn’t change your work much, then this shouldn’t be a problem. If the work asked you're asked to do differs substantially from what you agreed, and you’re not happy with it, call your agency for advice, but don't complain.
Be helpful - If you're doing a shift which finishes at 5pm, but they suddenly need extra cover for the evening, consider whether you can offer to help or not and think with the near future in mind. If you're seen as being helpful, they're more likely to select you over others for any future shift opportunities that come up. If you do ever agree to stay later, make sure you inform your agency so that they can amend the booking and ensure your time-sheet won’t be rejected when you submit it.
Be responsible - Get the work done the same way you would if you were in a training job. There’s nothing worse than a locum doctor who doesn't pull their weight or refuses to do certain parts of the work because they’re “just a locum” and this usually leaves a trail of issues behind that the regular staff have to deal with on the next shift. If you don’t know how to do something because you’ve not worked there before, just ask! Most ward staff will be really helpful if you ask, and they're very knowledgeable about how to get things done. There are usually other SHOs or registrars around that you can ask as well.
Be honest - If you're being asked to do something you’re not comfortable with or inexperienced with, talk to a senior about it and seek extra help from them. It's just as important to do this when you're a locum doctor as it is in a training position. This shows your seniors that you’re responsible and know your own limitations, and they would much prefer this than someone who muddles along and gets it wrong.
Be keen - If you'd like further work in that area, make sure you tell the rota co-ordinator, in person, that you’re available and looking for more work. They may tell you about any rota gaps coming up which you can nab before they put it out to agencies! If they know you’re looking for more work, they'll usually ask the people who’ve worked with you on that shift for some feedback and, if it’s good, they’re more likely to book you over someone else for future shifts.
Our Top Tips, Summed Up
1) Pick a familiar specialty. Your first shifts in a new hospital will be much easier if they're in a specialty where you feel most comfortable or had your most recent experience. Once you have a feel for the hospital, you can then ask your agency if they can find you work in another specialty.
2) Get all the paperwork sorted and organised in advance. Avoid the unnecessary stress by sorting timesheets and T&Cs ahead of time.
3) Do plenty of research on the hospital. Ask friends, post in Facebook groups (like the Foundation Year 3 Doctors group) or read reviews on Messly.
4) Make a good impression on the day. Be helpful, proactive and enthusiastic to set yourself up for more work in the long term.
5) Get to know the rota co-ordinator. Tell them you’re looking for more work so they know to let you know as things come up.
Finding Locum Work
Messly's new service helps you find the right agency for you, quickly and easily.
You create a profile which says exactly what kinds of work you're looking for (what specialty, where, at what rates), and then get ‘pitched’ by multiple agencies, offering you shifts matched to those needs. You can quickly find the agency that has the best work for you… so you know it's worth the hassle of getting registered with them. You can read more here.
Getting ready for your first day at a new workplace is an exciting experience, but it can also be scary. If you follow our advice, it should make the process of signing up to work in a new hospital less daunting and stressful. You'll be ready to make a great first impression, avoid common pitfalls many first-time locums fall into, and it may even help you to get more work with them in the future.
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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