What is it like to Locum during COVID-19?

8 min | Medical Careers

An insight into the life of a Locum GP in a global pandemic

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COVID-19 has been a disastrous event and a defining point for many, especially for those working in healthcare. Despite numerous reports about the impact of the pandemic on healthcare professionals, less is known about the effects on locums and what challenges they face.

Even before the pandemic, working as a locum had its challenges: new job, new location, new team. But because of the pandemic, even more issues have arisen with border closures and quarantine requirements frequently changing.

Telemedicine also created a sector-wide opportunity to reduce face-to-face consultations which in-turn reduced the risk of transmission. However, the reduction in patients and lack of patient interaction is beginning to take a toll on the mental health of GPā€™s.

To gain a better understanding of these challenges and what it is really like to Locum during a global pandemic, we sat down with Dr. Chi Ming Lau, an experienced General Practitioner who has continued to locum throughout these uncertain times.

How long have you been working as a General Practitioner and what initially attracted you to this Specialty?

I have been working as a GP for about 20 years. From the beginning, I wanted a career that could offer a great work-life balance and General Practice seemed to be the best option as it had a shorter residency training period, while also having more regular working hours in the community.

Another attraction of General Practice for me is that it aims at providing holistic, comprehensive, and continuing care to the patient which is essential to maintain the wellbeing of the population. At the end of the day, prevention is better than cure. 

Tell us about some of your locum experiences so far

I have worked in several locations in the past 2 years such as Batemans Bay, Moruya and Parkes in NSW, Kyabram, and Yea in Victoria, and Geeveston and Dover in Tasmania. Although most of them are small rural communities, all the hospital facilities are well-equipped with very experienced clinical teams. I have gained a lot of challenging but rewarding experiences.

Has your day-to-day work been impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic?

I think the major impact for a locum GP  was the significant decrease in locum job opportunities across all states and territories. There was a perception that there would be more work as healthcare professionals were in high demand, however, due to certain areas being locked down and border restrictions, this was not the case. 

Often shifts would be cancelled last minute or available shifts were high-risk. In turn, this led to more uncertainty around income and job opportunities. 

However, this trend is beginning to change. With the summer holidays fast approaching and border restrictions easing, now is the perfect time to travel and work as hospitals across Australia are looking for locum Doctors to help cover annual leave.

What has changed the most since it all began and how did you have to adapt?

There has been a significant change in terms of workload and work pattern in private practice since COVID-19 began. Although the number of patients allowed to enter the practice reduced due to social distancing, the changing mix of face-to-face and telehealth consultation is significant, with over one-third of all consultation provided by telehealth, compared to zero before the pandemic. 

Overall, the total number of consultations per day has only slightly decreased. Also, most telehealth consultations are by telephone, comprising about 95% of my telehealth consultations. 

What has been the impact of COVID-19 on your personal life?

Due to quarantine requirements, I am unable to have regular gatherings with my friends and family. But the hardest thing to deal with is the potential risk I come home with, especially when I have treated patients suspicious of contracting COVID-19.

Despite the challenges, what is the most rewarding thing about Locum work?

The most rewarding thing is the strong team spirit of the practice staff despite the COVID-19 pandemic. All the practice staff continues to try their best to provide and maintain a high quality of health service despite these unprecedented times. 

Is there any additional support you wish you had to allow you to care for patients?

I wish adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) at a reasonable cost would be provided for healthcare workers. 

What is your key takeaway from this new way of delivering healthcare? Do you believe it will transform healthcare in the long run?

The pandemic and its consequences have accelerated the use of telehealth which I believe may become one of the popular ways of healthcare delivery in the future. Telehealth will create demand from those who would not initially visit the doctor because of travel costs and the need to take time off work or those who find it difficult to travel due to chronic disease or frailty.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your experience as a Locum GP during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are sure this will help many doctors who are considering Locum work.

Are you a Doctor interested in Locum work?

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