Insight into the career of a long-term Locum Doctor

An Interview with long-term Locum - Consultant O&G, Dr David MacFarlane

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Late last year, Wavelength’s General Manager, Richard Taylor, joined Dr David MacFarlane, Consultant O&G, for a webinar organised by Private Practice. Together they discussed everything doctors need to know about locum work. From how to start a career as a locum doctor, the benefits of locum work, right through to giving back to communities in need — Richard and David left no stone unturned, here’s the recap.

A brief background on David

Originally from New Zealand, David began his journey as a General Practitioner before commencing his training at National Women’s Health in Auckland, where he specialised in O&G.

Having relocated to Australia over 20 years ago, David worked full-time for over 10 years in private practice. After years of hard work and being on-call 24/7, he decided to start locuming so that he could pursue some of his passions in sailing, travelling and painting. He completed his first locum in Orange in 2009 and has never looked back. 

Why did you decide to undertake locum work?

I enjoyed working in private practice, I had good people working for me and I still enjoyed O&G, so it wasn’t that I was disillusioned with the profession but there’s more to life than just work. 

I knew I didn’t want to retire but also had personal goals to achieve. So, I thought I’d test the locum waters and see how it might give me more time to pursue interests outside of work. This then turned into a career that made it easier to use my free time for my interests, whereas in private practice it was difficult to get time off or take spontaneous trips, which was frustrating. In the end, it turned out quite fabulous for me.

How have you planned and managed your locum career to suit your personal needs? 

I began with short-term locums, so I could get a feel for it and experience different parts of Australia. But now I prefer to do longer-term locums, of about 1 to 2 months, mainly due to having a sense of familiarity. This helps reduce the amount of travelling, learning new hospital procedures, the time spent getting to know the team and even where the best restaurants in the area are. 

I’ve also found that doing longer-term locums is good for the permanent staff as they get a better understanding of how you work. Permanent staff get to know you and adapt. I can imagine it can be pretty frustrating to have a succession of new people all the time. 

If I do a longer locum, I’ll then take some time off before beginning my next locum. 

What have been the specific benefits of locum work to you? 

I have enjoyed the flexible nature of the work, being able to plan for the future, and accessing unique opportunities.

A career as a locum doctor means I get exceptional personal and work-life balance and get to do much more with my year than just work. I control my working hours and the type of work I engage in and as a locum doctor, I can move around shifts and create a schedule that works best for me.

This flexibility also means I enjoy the freedom to plan my working year to a schedule that suits me. It means less negotiation for time off, and I get to focus on what really matters to me. I’ve been able to use my downtime to volunteer with Medecins Sans Frontieres in countries in need such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Syria.

I also love working with expert recruitment consultants who understand my needs when finding me roles. This comes with the benefit that they help with credentialing and booking travel and accommodation — saving me a lot of admin time.

How has locum work helped broaden your medical knowledge and experience?

By comparison with what is happening in the rest of the world, we live in a very privileged country. You learn gratitude and to appreciate how extraordinary the Australian medical system is and how well off we really are.

By going to different places, I experience situations that we rarely see here as we have systems in place that don’t allow things to get that far. I get a lot back from coming to these different places.

What are your top tips for any prospective locum?

  1. Be flexible. Hospitals may do things differently from how you’ve become accustomed to doing them. Sometimes, you may hear about previous locum doctors who tried to enforce their system, and this can be stressful on the current staff and the hospital. Equipment and set-ups can vary but you’ve got to learn to let go and adapt to each situation.
  2. Familiarise yourself with your surroundings – inside and outside of the hospital. Find out where you are working, your equipment, passcodes etc. before you begin your first shift.
  3. Appreciate that you will be away from home so take things that make you feel at home. I always take a kindle, my own coffee plunger and sometimes I even buy things for the house I’m staying in to personalise it. The little things can really make all the difference. 

How has your locum career changed during the COVID pandemic?

Like many doctors, I’ve felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While on a locum in Whyalla, South Australia, COVID-19 arrived in Australia. As a result, borders were closed and what started out as a 4-week locum, ended up being 19 weeks!

After returning to NSW, the borders subsequently closed again, meaning I had to complete two weeks in hotel quarantine.

In hindsight, I think we were expecting and preparing for the worst-case scenario when COVID began, however, it turned out to be a lot less drama than we were expecting.

Before we finish, is there anything else you’d like to add about locum work? 

Everyone should think about trying locum work. It helps expand your horizons and prevents you from getting trapped in a bubble where you think that things can only be done in one way. Locum work also provides an opportunity to discover more about Australia, work in different communities and in turn, it really enriches your life.

There is so much more to life than work and locum work offers you the flexibility to experience and try new things.

Are you interested in working as a locum doctor?

The number of locums has increased across Australia. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, locums account for an average of 3.4% of doctors in NSW. However, it is as high as 38.4% in the Southern NSW Local Health District. 

With job flexibility and access to unique opportunities, it’s easy to see why locuming is so popular.

If you’re interested in working as a locum doctor, please register today. Or call our friendly team on 1300 780 525 to have a confidential chat. Our team is always happy to discuss your career goals and help you find the perfect role to suit your schedule.

Would you like to learn more?

Watch the full interview here and gain even more insights on David’s time volunteering with Médecins San Frontieres in Nigeria, Syria and Ethiopia, learn about the many Australian locations and communities he has worked with and how locum work has allowed him to pursue other passions, click the link here.

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