Taking the leap from full time employment to locum work can be daunting, even in the face of many new adventures on the horizon. You may have watched friends make the move and been envious of them managing their own diary, earnings and flexibility, but once you’re in the driving seat, it can be overwhelming. Here are six top mindset skills which can help any new locum in the first few weeks.

1) Discard the negative voice in your head. I worked in full time employment in first opinion practice for six years before taking the “locum leap”, with five years of that in one clinic. What I did not consciously acknowledge before embarking on this journey, was the need to adapt to how the “little” things are done in each clinic. In the midst of figuring out which vaccinations were used, which parasite preparations were standard and their protocols on charging, I had to keep reminding myself that I did know what I was doing. Just because you do not know all of their protocols, does not make you a new graduate again. A small, negative voice in my head would try to jump in and say “you don’t know anything any more,” “they’ll think you’re useless,” and “you’re going so slow.” We all have this voice, and it is rubbish; even six years out, with an internal medicine certificate, it tries to chip in. The truth is, whatever you give energy to grows, and the more than you can ignore the negative voice, the better. Flip everything around and look at solutions; protocols are easily checked with compendiums, staff members and standard operating procedures. As a new locum in a clinic, nobody expects you to know everything. You’re trying your best, you have all the core skills, the intricate details of protocols are accessories that you pick up quickly.

2) Be kind. We all know that our profession can be stressful at times, particularly in an environment that is potentially understaffed. You have two choices as a locum; you can walk in and be a joy to work with, or you can be a proverbial dragon. Empathising with other staff members, being polite and positive costs nothing. I can tell you from personal experience, that it makes your day much more enjoyable too. Over Easter, I used to take a couple of Easter eggs into the clinics with me, I’d offer people drinks and I’d try my hardest to see the good side of everything; it works like a muscle, the more that you work it, the easier it gets. Spending a couple of pounds on Easter eggs and a good attitude brought me good feedback, great relationships and a lot of ongoing work.

3) Remember your skills list. Back to point number one. In the midst of all the things that you perceive not to know, it is easy to forget to acknowledge what you do. Make a list. It may seem ridiculous, but when the negative voice in your head tries to bring you down, you can reference it. For example, you might note that you’re a good communicator, a whizz at neuters, great at dermatology and very organised. Think about what people always comment on. Own your strengths. Keep your list at hand and check in with it if you feel a “wobble” before a shift. Remind yourself that you cannot control what comes through the door, but you do have the skills to deal with it (or be able to contact someone who does).

4) Set new habits early to keep on top. Habits are formed from repetition, and in loops they form something called paradigms, which are a subconscious programming. If you do something enough times, it becomes automatic. With locum work, you may have a new list of tasks that were never part of full time work. This might include recording mileage, expenses and invoicing. From the beginning, plan when you will do this. Religiously make this into a habit that you do on a regular basis. You might set that every Monday night you will update your admin. Preserve this time as if it were an emergency surgery. If you constantly avoid it, and associate dread with these tasks, this attitude with magnify and you will end up far behind. One effective tactic is to find a friend or your partner to hold yourself accountable to – ask them to check that you’ve completed it.

5) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is zero shame in asking for help, in all senses. Not knowing information is by no means a weakness, but not finding out can significantly hold you back. Practices are aware that all locums have different levels of experience, which will usually be discussed before your shifts, but there will often be techniques which you may not have come across. I was recently in a clinic using stenting for aural haematomas which I had not come across, I was fascinated and ensured that I asked everything that I could in case I came across it again. It is better to ask before, rather than after.

6) Know your priorities. One huge advantage of managing your own diary is that you can give yourself a brilliant work:life balance. You can ensure that time is kept aside for holidays on your schedule, family events and activities outside of work. If you need more income, you can work more, or if you want time off, the world is your oyster. However, once you start working and building relationships with clinics, it is easy to end up wishing to please everyone. I have been there myself. I knew practices that were really struggling, I ended up overbooking myself and exhausted. Solidify what is important to you; know how many shifts you wish to work on average, know how far away you are willing to work, know how many days in a row you will work. Stick with it.

Our mindset going into new lines of work is so powerful with regard to dictating outcomes. Ups and downs are as normal as day and night, but if you always have a strong mindset to return to, you will have a superb foundation for any shift.

Read more about Katie Ford.