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.
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- Whenever you have cause to interact with anyone professionally introduce and identify yourself and make sure you remember their name.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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