Top 7 Tips To Be Successful As A Locum

Courtney Marie L.
Jun. 23, 2020
9-minute read

Working as a locum can be a great opportunity to gain experience in a variety of practices, with different systems and a wide range of patients. It can prove to be a great educational experience and offers a great deal of variety. That being said, it can sometimes feel isolating and confusing, so we’ve made a list of the top 7 tips to be a successful locum.

Each step will help contribute to your overall confidence and fulfilment as a locum. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to get more organized, adopting these habits will help make the most out of your locuming experience while maximizing your potential.

1. Ask For A Patient Report or Handoff 

Recent research suggests that nearly 70 percent of medical errors are due to miscommunication. This might seem like a fairly easy, or even obvious step, but unfortunately, it’s not always the case. Therefore, make sure you always ask for a patient report or handoff from the previous physician. It’s best if you can arrange a face-to-face report, but even a phone call, or an extremely detailed email, is better than nothing. Studies have even shown that a face-to-face handoff leads to a 30 percent decrease in error rate. 

2. Know The System

Whenever you start at a new location make sure you ask what system they’re using beforehand and try to get all your IT ducks in a row (logins, passwords, etc.). There’s nothing worse than trying to learn how to navigate a new system when you have a full workload in an environment you’re not used to. Plus, who knows, you might have used the system before, making it that much easier to settle in and focus on your patients. If you’re not familiar with the system, asking about it beforehand will give you time to research it and make sure you’re somewhat familiar with it before your first day.

3. Flexibility

When we say flexibility, not only do we mean availability, but also an eagerness and openness to try new things. Be open to different schedules, locations and positions. Some places might not always be what you hoped for, or expected, but they can still offer new learning opportunities. For example, in most provinces,  if you work in a rural location, you can qualify to have a rural premium added to your billings. If you’re completely open to any experience and what it can offer, not only may you earn more but you’ll expand your experience as a doctor which can help you figure out the real areas you excel at and may want to focus on more in the future. 

4. Balance

This next step can go a long way and will really help the transition phase for everyone involved, especially the patient. You need to find a balance between your practice style and the previous physician’s style. This is particularly important when dealing with complex cases.

You can do this by carefully reading each patient chart and appreciating and acknowledging how the previous physician was treating them. By evaluating and understanding the previous physician’s recommendations, diagnoses and treatments, you’ll not only be able to get a glimpse of their practice style but you’ll be able to care for and support the patient better since you’ll have an understanding of how their case has been managed. So, keep in mind that a successful locum will have the right amount of balance between their own style and that of the previous physician.

5. Listen

Of course, make sure you listen to your patients and really acknowledge their concerns, particularly if you’re covering a GP whose patients are used to seeing them and who might have reservations in seeing you.

         It’s also important to listen to the other physicians and everyone else around you. Remember that everyone there is already experienced; they know the office, systems and patients, all better than you do, so listen and ask questions if you need clarification on anything.

When you’re in a new place, everything will take longer than usual, which might put you behind schedule or make you feel stressed, but this is when mistakes happen. When you’re feeling rushed, you’re not thinking or listening as carefully anymore. So, if you feel under pressure, take a step back, ask someone for help and really listen. 

If you want to learn all the ins and outs of locuming check out our Ultimate Locum Guide.

6. Have Confidence

Trust your abilities. There’s not always a lot of support working as a locum, so you’ll need to rely on your experience, but also recognise what’s within your own competence. Don’t take on a role that is beyond your ability or feel pressure to take on an unmanageable amount of work. Just like any other job, be friendly, be polite and act professional. Remember to ask questions, be open-minded and that just by being there – you’re helping. Don’t sweat the small stuff or take anything too personally, without a team to turn to, the ability to let things go, and simply go with the flow, will make each day feel more successful.

7. Make Sure Your Payment System Is Set Up

One of the main components that is often neglected by locums is figuring out how they’ll get paid. This step is extremely important to becoming a successful locum and can really help maximize your earning potential. There are several options available to locums, but the most common ones are through an agency or by billing on your own (using your practitioner number or by incorporating). The latter two are best if you’re looking to maximise your earnings.

Before you sign any contracts, make sure you know the overhead and who will be paying you. And of course, if you do need a billing system try Dr. Bill for free our app was created to make billing “on the go” easier by getting rid of paper notes & daysheets. We’ve helped numerous locums set up their billing system and organize their pay. Our billing agents automatically recorrect any errors and resubmit claims on your behalf.


Being a locum in an incredible way to test out practices, learn new skills and meet a ton of new patients and colleagues. While it’s not always straight-forward in getting started, taking the time to organize yourself a bit before each new job will go a long way in making each gig successful.

Always ask for a report from the previous physician, set up your payment and billing systems right away and ask what technology the practice uses so you’re familiar with it on day one. Try to balance your practice style and the previous physician’s style so the patient is comfortable and trusts you more and have confidence in yourself and your skills but don’t be too shy to ask questions.

Whether you’re at the beginning of your career or the end, or you’re simply looking for more balance, locum work is a wonderful way to expand your practice while taking your schedule into your own hands. 

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.

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Courtney Marie L
Writer and editor with a demonstrated history of working in the Canadian healthcare sector and the publishing industry. Skilled in writing, editing, proofreading, Spanish to English translation, and teaching English as a second language. Strong communications professional with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Political Science from the University of Manitoba.
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