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Why I quit my partnership to become a locum

Having been a partner in a busy town practice for eight years, Dr Libby Hodges opted to become a locum four years ago - and hasn’t looked back since

The constant pressure of a demanding patient population combined with office politics and problems with staff tipped me into the stress stratosphere early on in my career.

Added to this, I had a desire for more variety in my career. I wanted to teach and train, and also have time for a life outside medicine. The rigidity of the system I worked in made it difficult to pursue these interests.

I had already witnessed other colleagues having to stop work due to mental and physical health problems. For me, the clues to burnout showed up as a string of minor illnesses, constant physical exhaustion, and a loss of enjoyment in my work.

At a particularly low point, I decided to work with a life coach. This helped me to clarify what really mattered to me. As a trainee I had aspired to develop a portfolio career. When a full time partnership was offered shortly after qualification, I soon lost sight of these dreams and aspirations.

I reduced my workload and, with the time this created, was able to develop my work as a teacher and appraiser, and also train as a transformative coach. Eventually I was inspired to take the leap and resign from partnership.

Since becoming a locum, I’ve never wanted for work. The increased flexibility has enabled me to develop my role as an appraiser, as well as becoming a training programme director for the local GPVTS. Having ‘seen the light’ I’m now passionate about working with other doctors to help them create the work/life balance that will allow them to enjoy themselves both inside and outside work.

I’ve also rediscovered the pleasure of seeing patients. I may not get the benefits of a continuous relationship, but having only one opportunity to serve makes my interactions with patients all the more special – and they seem to find me a breath of fresh air. Colleagues and staff are always pleased to see me, and when I’ve finished my surgery there is little, if any, paperwork – and no office politics.

There are some potential pitfalls. I had to learn to make time for admin and invoicing – essential if you want to get paid and stay organised. If security is important for you, being a locum may not be suitable. It can also be a lonely existence – though the interactions I have with my teaching team have inoculated me from this. There are still question marks over making revalidation work for locums, and it’s worth joining a local sessional GPs group or joining the NASGP.

Being a GP locum is now a viable long-term career choice. But it’s also a great intermediary state while you decide on your next step, allowing you and practices to get to know one another. The job market is much more fluid than it used to be, and it’s commonplace to move between roles, rather than staying in one role for the whole of your working life.

As doctors we’re masterful at getting our heads down and just ‘getting on with it’. We know what we don’t want, but are so busy just getting through the day that we rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to explore how we’d really love life to be.

In my work coaching other doctors, it’s become clear to me that there are many ways to avoid burnout. Not all involve leaving your current role – sometimes a few small changes can make all the difference. Either way, medical school chooses ‘well-rounded’ individuals, and I think it’s about time we all recognised that allowing ourselves the time and space to rediscover our ‘well-rounded’ selves is good, not only for us, but also for everyone we interact with.

Dr Libby Hodges is a coach and GP in Southam, Warwickshire.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Dont be so sure the people who consult you are as satisfied with the lack of committment .a major discontent is the lack of continuity and the never ending small errors and changes made by different locums who dont know people as individuals.not all are bothered but a sizeable number are sad that they dont get to know a GP as a person either

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  • I think it's good to have insight into what suits you best in your career.

    Many of us just know how to be a GP partner, and that's all! It takes so much to be a GP and get to know your patients and get old along them. That's nice, but not ideal for everyone.

    People like Libby enjoy varierty and more balance in work life interface. They would probably put their potentials into practice in various areas and I admire people who are brave enough to admit GP principal role as it is now, with all the pressures and challenges, is not for them.

    After all, people are different and it's good to find out what type of work makes you the optimal 'serving machine' in this world, keeping you healthy and productive at the same time! We should not misuse the concept of 'continuity' which is desirable but not always essential; we are not there to make people 'happy', just to help maintain their help.

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  • I meant health!

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  • As stated Babak.not everybody needs and many certainly dont want ,a relationship with a GP but those who do expect and need this continuity lament the way things are going.lets all have a right state our views without getting needlessly defensive...Libby is perfectly entitled to run her own life as she wishes

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  • Interesting slip Babak, Thing is 'help' 'health' and 'happiness' are inextricably linked at times!

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  • It's about finding the right working style for you - one is not better than another. We're all different and we're fortunate to be in a profession that allows us many choices. You can contact me through my website if you're interested in talking further about this:

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  • Different GPs have different priorities. To me, helping out in a patients problem and witnessing the final oucome is more staisfying than giving him a sticking plaster and be happy that everything turned out well for the patient.

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  • The most common complaint I hear from patients in my clinics is that they never see their own GP or even the same one each time they visit the surgery.

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  • Interesting. Why can't you have a portfolio career as a GP principal? What was it about that partnership that did not allow you to do this?

    I have been a part-time GP principal for 12 years and have always enjoyed having a "portfolio" career - a stint in public health, working in sexual health clinics, as PCT PEC member, doing MSc and now in the middle of doctoral study; all that with a stability of a partnership.

    General practice can be full on and stressful. I accept it may be a drop in income but taking time out to pursue other "hobbies" can enrich your professional development, you can share skills and experience with your colleagues, improve patient care, and of course, keep you sane.

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