How can practices work with locum vets to get the best from them?

If you're a practice manager looking to help locums (or self-employed veterinarians) acclimatise to your veterinary practice and provide you with the best service possible, then this is the guide for you.

Before the locum arrives at your clinic

First - be clear when making the booking and ensure all details are provided. Is it an operating shift, a consulting shift or a mix? Will there be any sole charge involved? What is your current COVID-19 protocol? Are clients being seen outside, in the waiting room or are they coming into the consult room? This will help provide peace of mind for your locum and ensure there are no surprises on the day. Ensure you’ve discussed how payment will be made, and what the expected time for payment will be.

If the locum hasn’t worked for you before and this is their first time to the practice, you could consider sending them a copy of the Practice Handbook or guide ahead of their shift informing them about the practice. This would include protocols, practice policies, and which practice management system you use. Keep it brief (ideally bullet points) to make it easy to refer back to. Highlight any services your practice offers that they may not be aware of.

One lovely practice I locummed at had a really good locum guide that not only provided the necessary information but also gave a real feel for the practice culture.

“We are a small friendly team, do feel free to ask us any questions that you have, we will be happy to help. Our clients generally are lovely and the majority are insured. There is a lovely bakery 3 minutes walk up the road and a park opposite which makes a nice spot for lunch.”

On the day

Remember to organise your diary, update the practice management system, and make sure your clinical team is aware that your practice is expecting a locum that day. Ideally have a designated member of staff there to welcome them and give them a brief tour of the practice. Remember the toilets and staff room! It’s not pleasant to arrive being unexpected, and thrown into a consult room and to crack on. Remember for this shift the locum is representing your practice, and looking after your clients and pets - so the better the induction into the practice, the better they can carry this out.

locum briefing

Consider either asking the locum to arrive a little earlier on their first day or potentially blocking off the first appointment slot in order to show them round and answer any questions, get them logged into the practice management system, and discuss how the day will run. Is the vet required to dispense medications? Book future appointments? Recommend the health club? All of this will help them help you and your lovely patients.

Have passwords ready to enable the locum to log onto the computer, practice management system, and lab software e.g. Vet Connect. Show them the pharmacy so they can acclimatise themselves with which brands of frequently used medications & anti parasiticides that you stock - these will often differ between practices.

Have a copy of your practice guide available in the consult room. This should include information on charging, insurance/direct claim protocols, information regarding where you refer to, and any practice pet health plans you may have and what’s included in them. It’s particularly useful to share any staff specialisms or certificate holders for internal referrals - perhaps you have a vet that specialises in exotics or loves seeing eye cases, or maybe a nurse who is interested in behaviour. If you offer services like laser therapy, physiotherapy hydrotherapy, orthopaedic surgery, or have visiting specialists like ophthalmologists or diagnostic imaging services - then make this clear. You don’t want to be letting cases out when they can stay in house.

Introduce the locum to the rest of the team, as this will enable them to ask any questions or ask for or offer help if needed. It’s of mutual benefit to create a positive experience with your locums – if a locum enjoys their day and has a good experience the more likely they will be to come back and help the practice out in the future. They may potentially even consider a permanent position with you, or recommend the practice to their friends or colleagues - something hugely beneficial when resources are stretched.

Remember, even experienced locums aren’t robots and will need breaks and lunch during the day, just like your regular staff. Be careful not to overbook, and as usual allow for emergencies and those ‘needs to be seen today’ appointments. Perhaps a telemedicine service like PetsApp may help you manage your diary. Most experienced locums will be adept at slotting into the practice, have used a range of practice management systems and charging protocols, but remember every practice does things a little differently.

Whether you’re paying your locum via their limited company, sole trader, umbrella company or PAYE ensure they are paid properly and on time.

In Summary

  1. Brief your locum as fully as possible, and remember to cover off any unique internal processes to maximise their time at your clinic.
  2. A welcoming culture will help both the locum and your wider clinic team.
  3. Prepare any technology guides and log-ins to facilitate quick & easy usage of your clinic’s workflows

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