What Can Locum Doctors Do if Work Dries Up?
Over the last few years, locum doctors have become used to having an abundance of work. This has been powered by the F3 phenomenon, resignation from permanent posts, and a struggling NHS. Thanks to this, doctors who locum have generally had their pick of shifts.
However, it has occasionally been true that locums have found that work is hard to come by – maybe your staff bank is publishing fewer shifts or your agency is not calling with work as frequently.
Whatever the reason, struggling to book shifts can be scary. As non-trainees, often locum shifts may be your only source of income and not having that job security can be disorienting.
If you are currently struggling with a dry spell, this article will help you:
👉 Understand why dry spells sometimes happen
👉 Give you some options of what to do next
🤷 Why do dry spells happen?
The market for locum work is like any other – controlled by laws of supply and demand. If you are finding work hard to come by, it could be due to a combination of the following reasons:
👉 Hospitals have filled long-term positions
Hospitals prefer to have long-term positions filled rather than rely on last-minute locum bookings. If a hospital where you usually work has done this, they may simply not require a locum doctor at the moment.
👉 Hospitals are not as busy as usual
Although this is rare, sometimes hospitals are not as busy as they usually are, resulting in the need for fewer doctors on rotation. This could be due to the time of the year if they have recruited doctors to alleviate winter pressures, some international crisis is reducing the number of annual leave doctors are taking at that particular time, or just an anomaly. Luckily this doesn’t tend to last long.
👉 Locum competition
If an abundance of locum doctors are all looking for the same type of work, there will inevitably be competition for the same shifts, so some doctors will, unfortunately, miss out.
👉 Hourly rates have temporarily decreased
Lower hourly rates mean limited options at your preferred rate. This may be due to caps (e.g Pan London Rates) or just more doctors available at lower rates.
🙌 What can you do to help yourself find work?
First, you need to get informed about why work is not coming your way. Speak to your locum agency and to your registered staff banks/medical staffing departments to find out which of the above factors is affecting your ability to get work. Ask how long the reduction in shifts on offer will last and what you can do to improve your chances of getting work. Also, this is a great opportunity to ask for candid feedback on your CV to see whether there are any gaps that you could improve to make you more desirable as a hire.
💪 What you can do when experiencing a dry spell
Although not working as much can be discouraging, it may also be a good opportunity to take some much-needed time off. As a locum, you won’t have built-in annual leave so this might be a good time to take some holiday or time off. But if you want to try to find some work right away, here are four ideas to consider:
🔹 Contact your agency and your bank rather than sitting back and waiting for updates from them. Tell them that you are actively looking and keen to work and ask them what options are available.
🔹 If you used Messly’s locum finding service to join an agency, you can ask our team for some additional help if you are not getting a satisfactory response.
Widen your search
If your typical type of work is not currently available, you can increase your odds of finding work by:
🔹 Looking for work in a new speciality
🔹 Looking for work in a new area, perhaps further away from where you usually look
🔹 Working night shifts if you don’t usually
🔹 Accept a lower rate as a last resort. Many doctors don’t like to do this at all. However, this may be a beneficial temporary option if you are not finding work at your desired rate, and your agency is telling you that rates are currently lower.
As you are widening your search, don’t break any personal boundaries that are very important to you, such as working nights or working further from home. Although you may be going through a lull, your personal boundaries are there for a reason and should be recognized so you can avoid any internal conflicts which will ultimately affect your quality of life and work performance.
You can check out our F3 workbook for exercises that help define your boundaries if you are unclear about what they are. Although this is written for F3 planning, it’s very useful for locums, as well.
Find more or different avenues
🔹 We recommend registering with at least 2-3 agencies to increase your odds of finding work.
🔹 Use Messly’s locum finding service to find an alternative agency. We make the best locum agencies compete to find your perfect locum jobs. You get offered real shifts, matched exactly to your needs before you’ve shared your contact details. It helps you find the best-paid, most rewarding and most convenient locums, keeping you in control throughout. You can learn more here.
Work on your CV
If the market is competitive, you need to stand out ahead of other doctors. Here are a few ideas to improve your CV:
🔹 Ensure your CV is up to date, including all of your recent work, and do a good job of ‘selling’ your experience to a department. Often a simple refresh/update can really help and it doesn’t take much time. You can check out this article about writing a CV as a locum doctor for inspiration. And again, ask for candid advice from your locum agency about where you might be getting outcompeted by other doctors.
🔹 Find some additional courses to add to your CV. This can help make your CV stand out, or fill a perceived gap in your experience. Additionally, this takes less time and less money than doing exams and can really be beneficial. Some course ideas include: suturing with basic surgical skills course and, point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) course. You can check out this article with ideas and links to live courses.
🔹 Get new references. Really strong references can help - is there someone you’ve worked with recently who would write something really positive? If so, contact them and ask that they be your referee, then let your locum agency know.
🔹 Consider using your time off to shadow in new departments which have more shifts on offer. If you need experience in A+E in order to book onto A+E shifts, negotiate with your staff bank to book some shifts after an agreed period of shadowing i.e 2-3 days.
✨ If you are going through a dry spell, take advantage of this free time to spend with yourself or family.
✨ Don't go against your personal boundaries when trying to find new work.
✨ Be vulnerable with your agency and ask them how you can improve your chances of finding work.
Hopefully, after implementing all of these suggestions, the dry spell has ended and you now have a shiny, new CV ready for another day! But, if you are still struggling then get in touch with us. We may be able to offer some bespoke advice to help you find more success in booking shifts.
We think you may also find these articles useful:
✅ What rates you can expect as a locum doctor
✅ How to manage your finances as a locum doctor
✅ How to make a living as a full-time locum doctor
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.”
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