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Strike a healthy balance: Getting medical recruitment right

Ryan Kevelighan, Managing Director of Global Medics Australasia (pictured left), looks at the unique challenges medical recruiters face and how the sector continues to reposition itself to remain competitive in a high-pressured and fast-paced market.

Have you ever wondered what the life of a doctor must be like? Australia and New Zealand combined have approximately 120,000 doctors registered to practice and, between them, they work in a diverse range of geographies, climates, cultures and demographics.

It requires six years at university to obtain a primary medical degree, with a further two to three years of post-graduate rotational placements to be completed before a doctor can enter specialist training.

Specialist pathways take a further three to seven years to complete, depending on the specialism the doctor has chosen to pursue. As is the case for all medical professionals, their career involves life-long professional development which is certified and monitored.

A doctor may initially secure a training post at a regional hospital where they complete the basic accredited training needed.

However, to fully complete the training, or become further sub-specialised, they often need to seek posts at a limited number of hospitals where they can receive the additional training required.

This often means moving location, sometimes interstate or even internationally, to continue their career. Many doctors are employed in permanent positions and do an incredible job, however the healthcare system is both vast and complex and is often required to be supplemented with the services of locum doctors. This occurs across all regions, regardless of how urban or rural they may be.

Locum is derived from the Latin “locum tenens” which translates as “place holder”. A locum would traditionally fill in while the permanent doctor takes a well- earned rest. In more recent times, locums have developed to be much more than a place holder and are essential in maintaining services within hospitals and practices alike. Completing a locum contract often provides great reciprocal training and skills transfer opportunity between colleagues.

Being a locum may seem like a pretty good lifestyle – moving locations, working when you want and having time off when you want – and it’s no surprise much of the public perceive it’s all about making the big dollars. However, as is the case with so many things in life, the reality and perception can be two entirely different things.

For us, our focus is purely on the placement of doctors across all specialties in both locum and permanent capacities. Our consultants and compliance teams work hard to try to ensure a continual supply of doctors in a high-pressured and fast-paced market.

Medical recruitment operates under a different set of dynamics to other sectors. With a doctor shortage, sometimes referred to as an imbalance because of a lack of specialists, finding available doctors – be it locum or permanent – requires a different approach. It is definitely more about a partnership rather than simply sales, and many of our doctors hold career-long relationships with their consultants and our company.

Often the more specific a specialisation required, the harder it is to fill a role, however all doctors can be hard to source depending on the time of year and location. The reason for this is the weight of demands on medical professionals and the available work options they have access to. Many simply do not require any additional work.

We tend to find locums fall into various categories often determined by the stages of their life and career: Junior doctors often seek short-term periods around their training calendars to supplement their income; senior doctors tend to be looking for a balance between clinical practice and work/life factors, often working multiple location in the same monthly period; specialists can sometimes struggle to get a full-time post in their desired specialty or location, so they settle of a 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) and then seek other work options around that commitment.

My neighbour is a specialist who works in his private practice for one week a month, a hospital the following week and then spends the third week seeing patients in the regional facility in his original hometown. He is maintaining three part-time roles at 0.25 FTE each. This is a familiar story we hear time and again as medical professionals work to build up their professional qualifications and try to be of service to their communities.

In reality, most locums are often otherwise employed doctors that are being asked to give their “spare” time up around their existing roster. We send doctors on placement periods as short as one shift and as long as six months, simply to meet the variety of demand.

The initial attraction is rarely money, as the profession is relatively well paid in the first instance. Locum/contract wages are often capped in the public system and are still restricted somewhat in the private system. Money is a beneficial factor to being a locum, however. When you factor in time spent travelling to locations and time spent not working between assignments, the rates often fall in line with the permanent market

. Ultimately, many medical candidates are more likely to be searching for positions that help them further develop their professional skill-set and career, while also still being of service in their field.

Due to this, it is critical those working in medical recruitment strive to understand what motivates and drives candidates in this sector because, quite simply, many of them are not just looking for a job.

We have found this is where the power of long-term partnerships comes into play rather than focusing on selling the role to candidates.

The level of compliance required for medical professionals is extensive and much of it requires continual updating. As criminal and background checks are only the start of the compliance process for a doctor, it is essential to be offering a seamless process for the candidates to ensure they can continue focusing on their clinical work and not be concerned about the administrative details of their locum placements.

The more services an agency can offer to keep a professional fully engaged and ready as a compliant candidate on the books, the faster they can respond to demand and fill placements.


  • 28 days annually working as a locum

  • Take 16 flights annually to do their locum work

  • Fly an average of 15,000km annually for locum work

Doctors working as full-time locums average:

  • Rosters where they work two weeks on and two weeks off • Work 144 days annually as a locum (not including other work they accept)

  • Are away from home for 168 days annually

  • Take 48 flights each year to and from locum work

  • Fly around 36,000km annually for locum work

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