Vet Alan Holford had three permanent veterinary jobs before opting to locum. He likes the flexibility, which has allowed him time to pursue other projects – including the monthly Vet Times Choices crossword. Here, he has advice for anyone considering a more flexible working life.
How long have you been a vet, and what have you enjoyed most about the role?
I qualified in 2010 from the University of Liverpool. I enjoy surgery the most, but plenty of variety exists in clinical work, with things to challenge you most days – no matter how experienced you are. These challenges can pop up across the variety of roles a vet undertakes and lead to pockets of job satisfaction when you least expect them.
Working in a team with great friends and colleagues has always been a great advantage, too.
What led you to decide to become a locum vet?
I found myself in a poor situation in my first job, which led me to consider leaving the profession after just six months. After that, I had two further permanent veterinary jobs, but found the after-effects of that first job amplified the normal trials and tribulations of veterinary work.
When employment issues arose, which I would ordinarily wish to simply rectify by negotiation, I instead found myself wanting to move on. I took a tentative step into doing a maternity cover then felt, at four years qualified, I had developed the skills and experience to offer an excellent level of service to other practices as a locum.
I also had ambition to develop other business and creative ideas, so wanted flexibility. I have been able to create the Vet Times Choices crossword, as well as work on other ideas. I also had personal circumstances requiring me to be able to spend more time at home with my family.
What are the advantages of choosing locum work, do you think, and what would you advise anyone considering making the move?
While choosing to locum is a developing trend, it does not suit everyone. It increases your immediate earning potential (without investing capital), but can limit your career development.
It can give you flexibility to choose when you work, but you need to be disciplined to not overstretch yourself. I get fulfilment by working with different people and having regular changes of scenery, but some people may be less comfortable with this. It is not a silver bullet for career fulfilment, but I have enjoyed my four years as a locum much more than my four years in permanent employment.
Do you work for one practice, or several, in the main, and do periods occur where you have a lot of time when you don’t work?
So far, shortage of work has not been a problem – I seem to be turning down work while only working within a one-hour commute. I like to work in a few semi-regular practices as much as possible, where I get both the benefits of a change of scenery and interaction with lots of lovely colleagues, as well as a reasonable familiarity with the way things work.
Do downsides exist to the decision, or do some aspects of being a locum not appeal so much?
The downside is financial security. While it is unlikely work is going to dry up in the foreseeable future, it is possible one could not be able to work for a medical or circumstantial reason – and you have to be saving all the time with that in mind. You can insure against that risk with income protection policies, but it can be difficult to get these if you have certain medical conditions.
You also need to save for your tax bill. Rather than paying tax incrementally, you pay a large bill first due about 18 months after you go self-employed. You also need to factor in accountancy fees, professional indemnity cover, RCVS fees, CPD costs and membership of organisations.