Time to brush up on your locum etiquette?

4 minutes read time Categories: Locum, Medical Career 19/02/2013

A few etiquette tips for Locum Doctors, from the first-hand experience of our director Dr John Bethell

updated April 2019

Working as a locum on temporary contracts can be a thankless task and the lack of positive strokes can sometimes give locums cause to forget their usual standards of civil behaviour.

doctor GP writing prescription

Just as a motorist will cuss and gesticulate from behind the wheel in a way that they never would as a pedestrian, locums may not see the point in extending the same basic courtesies to temporary workmates that they would a long-term colleague, especially if you are greeted with a cold welcome from the incumbent staff who view you as a 'blow-in'.

This is of course a mistake. The medical world is smaller than it might seem and Sod’s Law determines that if you ‘diss’ someone today you will inevitably be beholden to them tomorrow. Locums may be surprised to know how much their conduct is scrutinized and discussed when they are on location and reputations, good and bad, spread very quickly through the network.

When I worked as a locum years ago I was initially shocked by how unwelcoming some locations could be but I equally observed that many locums turn up on day-1 and make little or no effort to endear themselves to their new, if temporary, colleagues. It clearly cuts both ways.

To make life more bearable for myself, on what can be a lonely circuit, I developed a few strategies to accelerate my own induction and some ground rules to ensure that I would be welcomed back.

Here are a few tips for Locum Doctors to consider:

  1. On arrival make a conscious effort to introduce yourself enthusiastically to three key people: the person you report to; the senior nurse on the team and the person who seems to be the teams' biggest socializer (usually easy to spot).
  2. Before you start work make sure you get a full one-on-one induction with someone on the team to show you where everything is. Show enthusiasm and gratitude for that persons' time.
  3. Whenever you have cause to interact with anyone professionally introduce and identify yourself and make sure you remember their name.
  4. Do something selfless or unexpected. My personal favourite was offering to help the nurses lift a patient or make a bed - always makes a good impression. Making or buying a round of coffee is another no-brainer.
  5. Be very nice to medical admin. You might be surprised how much power they have over your destiny whilst you are on location. Cross them and don’t ever expect to be invited back.
  6. Leaving a parting gift, however small, will ensure that you will likely be remembered in a positive light. Even a packet of biscuits will be gratefully received.

These are very simple measures but can easily be overlooked or skipped when doing a locum. However even a single shift will be made much more pleasant by putting in a bit of effort up front.

I remember sitting at the nurses' station in ER once and watching a brand new locum give a student nurse a public and unnecessary dressing down. The NUM sitting next to me just muttered, “He is so out of here”. His one-week contract was terminated that evening.


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  • Dan R Friesland 20/02/2013 1:04am (6 years ago)

    "He's so out of here" and don't let the door hit you in the arse ! Let's show respect for the locum tenens providers as it is well proven that what goes around comes around.
    Dan R Friesland -Founder & President of Doctors With Dings, Inc www.doctorswithdings.com

  • jbethell66 20/02/2013 6:04pm (6 years ago)

    Thanks Dan. This happened in a small country hospital where the NUM and the person that booked the locums had known each other for years. The anecdote is intended to illustrate the fact that the new locum was not so much a victim of poor etiquette - more a victim of a poor understanding of local politics.

    My point is that this will always be the case for a locum arriving at a new location and so adherence to the principles of good 'locum etiquette' is more of a practical imperative than a moral one. Get on the right side of the right people early and you will welcomed with open arms. Get on the wrong side and you're "... out of here".

  • Dr John Drinkwater 26/02/2013 10:17am (6 years ago)

    I too would like to reinforce the not infrequent lack of respect that locums receive. It only takes so long before racial abuse, poor treatment and substandard working conditions and a locum becomes embittered. I have been a full time locum for some time now, chosen because of the flexibility and opportunities to travel and because I am older and caucasian I am only an observer of how others are treated, but I am still not impressed how especially our non caucasian colleagues are treated. Racism is alive and well out in rural Australia.

    But I do agree, if one does not want to leave behind a series of burnt bridges, one needs to very quickly learn how to deal with a fragile workplace politic.

  • drlorrainebarron 08/06/2013 5:00am (6 years ago)

    Very interesting post. Thank you for Sharing.


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Bethell, John

Blog Authors

John Bethell

Dr John Bethell graduated from Aberdeen Medical School in 1990 and worked as a doctor in both the UK and Australia, launching Wavelength with co-founder Claire Ponsford in 1999. As a pioneer and market leader of medical recruitment in Australia Dr Bethell has seen the industry grow and mature. After two decades of helping doctors find work and healthcare employers find doctors, he sees the medical workforce world from a unique perspective.

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