Memoirs of a Medical Administrator -
the good, the bad & the ugly Of Locum Doctors in Australia
We talk a lot about the benefits of locum work in Australia for healthcare professionals. Because there are a lot of them!
The weather, the adventures, the pay, the flexibility – the locum lifestyle is definitely appealing.
But what about the actual work? What makes a great locum doctor? What pitfalls do locum doctors sometimes fall into? How can locum doctors make themselves as useful and integrated as possible in the workplace?
We spoke to a few trusted (and anonymous) medical administrators across the country, all of whom have assisted many locum doctors on placement at their hospital or clinic. And it turns out that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows!
Medical administrators see everything that locum doctors do: the good, the bad and the ugly. So, we’re here to spill the beans on the behind-the-scenes of locum work: the dos, the don’ts, and the definitely-don’t-do-under-any-circumstances!
What makes a great locum doctor?
One thing is clear from our conversations with medical administrators: locum doctors are hugely important to the healthcare system in Australia. But there’s also a big difference between a great locum doctor and a not-so-great locum doctor.
One medical administrator commented that a great locum doctor is “a doctor who genuinely cares about their patients and enjoys the challenge of working in rural locations”, while others added, “It’s always great when we get a consultant locum doctor who is happy to teach and share their knowledge with junior doctors and the nursing staff”. “The specialist locum doctors that work for us enable our town to maintain ongoing services and we would be lost without them”.
The other theme that came up from the medical administrators we spoke to was the importance of locum doctors being able to settle into a team quickly. Often in rural and remote areas, services that rely on locum doctors are usually small teams where interpersonal relationships matter to the quality of care. One medical administrator noted, “I think [the best locum doctor is] someone who makes an effort with the team and just blends in like they’ve always been here”.
The qualities of a great locum doctor
- Genuinely cares about their patients
- Enjoys a challenge and working in different environments
- Skilled and competent, and up to date with the latest developments
- Can connect with people and work well in a team
- Generous with their time and knowledge, particularly with junior doctors
- Someone who’s diligent with credentialling and all the paperwork
The best locum doctors
Medical administrators see potentially hundreds of locum doctors come and go from their hospitals during their careers. So, when we asked our medical administrators to tell us about their absolute best experience with a locum doctor, they had plenty to pick from!
Here’s what three medical administrators had to say…
“During COVID, we ended up needing to hire more junior doctors, as we were stretched very thin. I loved how the junior locum doctors that we hired just came in and rolled their sleeves up and got on with things. It was a challenging time for everyone, but there was such a great sense of teamwork and collegial support. Everyone appreciated the extra help from the locum doctors and the focus was always on providing the best care possible.”
“A number of years ago, we had an amazing physician come to locum with us for several months. She had just wound up her private practice in Sydney and decided to take on the challenge of working in a country town as locum doctor prior to retiring for good.
She was the loveliest person and she got so much out of the experience. Everyone here loved working with her – she was always in a good mood, happy to share her knowledge, and nothing was too much trouble.
As well as being a great doctor, she also picked up on a serious medical condition in a young adult that had been missed previously, and I think she actually saved her life. The patient was my best friend’s daughter and my daughter’s best friend, which made it even more meaningful to us.”
“We’ve had a locum doctor coming back to us regularly for years now. He’s one of the ‘old school’ rural generalists, and he has a great personality. He’s an excellent doctor and we really value his commitment to our hospital. He lives in the city, and often says that he has the best life – because he still gets to go to the opera, but also practice the rural medicine he loves.”
The worst locum doctors
There are thousands of great medical professionals out there, but there are always a few who leave a sour taste in the mouth… And that’s what we asked our anonymous medical administrators about next: what has been your absolute worst locum doctor experience?
And they definitely didn’t hold back! Here’s the ugly truth about the worst locum doctors – and we hope that any aspiring locum doctors can learn what NOT to do from these horror stories!
“I have had several bad experiences, but the worst one was working with an older male ED Consultant. He was so rude to all the women in the department, including our ED Director, that we just wouldn’t have him back here again! It’s a shame, because clinically he was sound, but his interpersonal skills and the way he treated female colleagues, in particular, was unacceptable.”
“A locum psychiatrist we hired put his rates up after he arrived! We’d agreed to a generous daily rate prior to him arriving, but then after he’d arrived and settled in, he decided to increase it by a further $500 per day! Nothing had changed in terms of the job description or hours – he just thought he had us over a barrel. Needless to say, he didn’t last very long!”
“We once had a locum doctor who completely trashed their accommodation. He left moudly food in the fridge and bags of garbage lying around the unit we were renting for him, leaving us with several hundreds of dollars in repairs after he left! The landlord, understandably, wasn’t happy to rent the apartment to us again after that, which is challenging in a rural location where there are limited housing options for FIFO workers. The funny thing was, he was really pleasant at work! Which made the state of his accommodation even more shocking. It reflected badly on him and us at the end of the day.”
What advice would you give to a locum doctor starting a new role with you?Finally, we asked our anonymous medical administrators for their top tips for aspiring locum doctors – and there are some real gems they shared!
- Tip Number One: ““Make the most of your time here, both professionally and personally! We have a thriving community so the more you engrain yourself in it, the more you will get out of it.”
- Tip Number Two: “We’re not a city hospital, so we may not always have the latest equipment or access to specialist services. Be prepared to adjust your expectations in rural setting and to think outside the square“.
- Tip Number Three: “Take the time to understand the department, hospital, and town that you’re working in/at, especially if you’re working with us for a long period. We have information packs and lots of resources to get to know the hospital and the region before you start work.”
- Tip Number Four: “Don’t just make sure you’re clinically a good fit for the job – make sure you have excellent interpersonal skills too and extend those to everyone you meet. Sometimes I see doctors who are lovely to their colleagues – but then they are unpleasant to the extended team that they are working with”.
- Tip Number Five: “Be kind, be human, and remember: we’re all in this together. Healthcare is demanding enough as it is, so we need to save our energy for the things that really matter.”