"I kick myself that I didn’t go locum sooner"
A Day in the Life of a Locum OT with Louella Todd
Published on 31st May 2016
Louella Todd, deputy team manager in an older person’s team in Hertfordshire County Council, is a prime example of how you can still climb the career ladder as a locum Occupational Therapist.
I have been in my current placement as a deputy team manager in an older people with disabilities team at Hertfordshire for three weeks although I’ve been with the council since July and worked my way up into management. I was in my current placement for two hours when they seconded me to the sensory services team as a deputy team manager. There was a staffing need and I filled that gap.
In my seconded role in the sensory services team, I deal with the triage of new cases and assign service users either to a member of the team or place them on the waiting list depending on their level of need. I don’t carry a caseload myself but I provide advice and support to the officers working with the service users and deal with goal management too. In this secondment I don’t deal with appraisals and staffing issues but I will once I return to my placement in the older people’s team. I deal with complaints which may come from service users, carers, care agencies or MPs and I have to investigate the complaint and try and resolve it. I also have responsibility for safeguarding management where a service users may have been subjected to abuse whether that is physical, emotional or financial. I need to look into any allegations and see whether there is a case to answer to.
I have never worked with children and tend to work with adults aged 18 and above who either have a disability or long-term condition. Currently, the service users either have visual, hearing loss or dual sensory loss. There are around 120,000 people in the borough who have some sensory impairment and we may be actively involved with some people who are new to the service and we are working on providing support and practical advice to enable them to live as independently as possible. Other services users may have come through the service six months ago but need a new assessment as their condition may have deteriorated or their equipment is no longer meeting their needs and so the degree to which we are involved with each service user varies on a case by case basis.
Occupational therapy fascinated me
The sensory team is made up of 16-17 workers including social workers, social work assistants or community care officers, rehab workers and specialist sensory assessors. We also have members of the team who have a sensory impairment and it is a very inclusive team. There are no OTs in the sensory services team but when I go back to the older people’s team, there are three OTs, six social workers, seven community care officers and two admin staff.
In a nutshell, the role of an OT is to provide equipment, aids, support and advice to people who may be affected by an illness, frailty or condition to ensure they can live as independently as possible. There is such a broad spectrum of work for occupational therapists that it amazes me that we as a profession are not more well-known. We can work with children or adults, people with physical disabilities, long-term conditions or mental health problems. I first became interested in OT when I was 14 and had to choose my options. There was a talk all about occupational therapy where they were demonstrating how equipment could make such a massive difference to someone’s life to enable them to live independently and it fascinated me. I explored it a bit further and went to careers fairs and spoke to OTs and decided that I would really like to do this as a career and help people.
I became an OT in 2009 after studying for three years at Northampton University and took a permanent job before going locum in 2012. I wanted to explore the diversity of the OT world. To be honest, I’d never considered going locum before, I’d been a bit naïve prior to that as I hadn’t realised the opportunities were there. I was really surprised by the availability of work and kind of kicked myself that I hadn’t done it sooner. I loved the fact that you could literally pack up your bags, go to another county and get work. I find it really exiting the thought that I could go to Nottingham, Manchester anywhere really and live there for three months. I don’t have a mortgage or any children so I don’t have any ties. My first placement was in Hastings so I decided to move there from Luton and rent during my placement. I did look into a post in Scotland but having checked it out on Google Maps it was a bit remote and an eight hour drive away so I didn’t take that one. Some jobs you apply for and you haven’t got the right experience or in some cases I’ve not got the placement as they’ve seen that my more recent roles have been managerial and they want a frontline OT. I do try and explain that I have transferable skills, managerial experience and frontline practice but there’s plenty of work out there.
In some places I’ve been referred to as “the locum”
There is no such thing as a typical day, every day is different. I drive to work and get there at 9am and my first job is opening up the rostas and checking any new referrals from triage, this is usually around 16 new cases per day. I work out what service each person needs and allocate the case or place them on the waiting list if it is not an urgent case. Then if the rehab workers are out in the field and have a problem, I might be taking calls from them and providing advice, manage referrals, close cases or deal with complaints. I don’t have many meetings in my seconded role, it’s more about dealing with triage and management of cases. I imagine there will be more meetings for example with care homes when I move back to the older people’s team. I work solidly 9 am to 5pm, there is no time for a lunch break and as a locum I can’t do over-time as I’m contracted to work 37 hours per week and can’t go over that. I get home around 6-6.30 so during the evenings I’ll socialise, watch tv or go to the gym.
Locum life is completely different to permanent work. I’ve worked in some places where I was the only locum OT in the team and I’ve been referred to as “the locum”. I was given the hardest and most complex cases as I was being paid more as a locum. In one placement I was so busy all the time and couldn’t understand it until I realised I was being allocated 30% extra cases than the rest of the team. It’s like you’re expected to have super powers if you’re a locum and work quicker. In some places I can attend mandatory training but nothing more. In fact once I was sent on a course and as soon as they realised I was a locum I was told to leave. The supervision locums get is much less than permanent staff. Permanent staff receive around one session per month plus ad hoc time as and when it is needed. As a locum you get one session every three months. In other places I’ve been treated completely as an equal and I’ve been invited to team events, team meetings – it really does depend on the team and the management. However you basically have to suck it up or move on. You do have to be hard sometimes. More is definitely expected of you as a locum and places can come down hard on you if you do something wrong. Sometimes you don’t have time to sneeze. I do feel like part of the team in my current placement. I do the mandatory training on offer and I always look out for training that I can do towards my CPD.
As a locum, I have to give one week’s notice and so if I am in a placement and it’s a nightmare I only have to tolerate it for four days. If I was permanent I’d have to be there for three months. During my time as a locum OT, the longest placement was 2.5 years and the shortest was six weeks as they ran out of money. I can’t see me going back to permanent work, I really enjoy the flexibility of locum life.
Best thing about being an OT: Helping people
Best thing about being a locum OT: The flexibility
Worst thing about being a locum OT: Lack of support
Greatest challenge as a locum OT: Managing a team of non-OTs.
Advice to someone considering going locum: Do it 100%. There are so many opportunities around and so many different job roles. If you don’t like it you can always go back to being a permanent worker but you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it.
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