Being a GP locum has long been misunderstood and undervalued. The specialty of GP locum is the Cinderella of medicine.
Once thought of as the poor ragged cousin of the medical family, locum work was seen as being suitable for doctors at the beginning and end of their careers. No proper doctor should see it as a real career path. It was ok for the young, inexperienced doctor before he got a real job for life; it was also ok for retired doctors after a life of experience, a sort of reward after a life of service, being put out to pasture.
A “real” GP was totally committed to their 24/7/365 “calling”, with personal continuity of care to “his” patients being a badge of honour. But, as women began to colonise the vast continents of medicine, general practice made way for group practice, patients seeing different doctors, and sessional practice.
The specialty of GP locums have being doing this for years: treating complex patients in brief, discontinuous interventions; sometimes picking up things the GP has missed; bringing a fresh perspective; fitting in and adapting to each practice. The emergent and modern, high-quality locum often brings new ideas from their travels among the many tribes and subcultures of general practice within Ireland and overseas. And it is this wider experience from medical travel that makes locums an underused resource to practices that want to use their diverse font of knowledge.
It was a simple thing, a small thing, when I offered a Carlow practice (before computers became the rage), the idea that it might be better to write the constantly changing addresses of their patients in pencil rather than pen on the front page of their paper records so that five addresses were not overwritten in mad, unreadable scribbles.
This Carlow GP practice took the new idea to heart and found great benefit from it. Other practices can be more wary of new ideas from the new kid on the block. Specialist locums feel the added vulnerability of being a short-term locum. Like walking into a well-designed kitchen, where you just “know” where everything is, some well-organised practices “flow” and are easy to adapt to.
Other practices are hard work – and have added risks for the transient doctor. Locums experience both the safe and unsafe practices in various GP practices. They have not yet become accustomed to the idiosyncrasies that each practice develops over time and which each practice comes to think of as normal.
These local solutions can become real challenges for locums, or real bonuses and new ideas to be spread by bumble bee locums to other receptive and flowering GP practices. In this way, specialist locums can become the mediators of good practice and alternative practice, spreading the good news like travelling storytellers of Irish folklore. They can be the cross-fertilisation seeds of new possibilities to other GPs who do not have the same privilege of medical travel and diversity.
Please note: This article represents the personal opinions of the author and not those of MPS.