It was a hard decision to leave my post as a senior APT in Bristol, but with a school age child and no family in the region to support me whilst I worked, especially with on call commitments I had no option but to return to my hometown of Middlesbrough.
After coming home I signed up to a locum agency as I did not want to give up on the profession I adored however; it was worrying what the future may hold.. going to different hospitals, meeting different people, different working practices… I was actually terrified!
I remember the phone call – I have a job for you: 2 weeks near London, Monday to Friday, accommodation provided on site, travel paid for – no on-call.
Ok! Let’s go to “near London” then…
I made a point of contacting the mortuary a couple of days before I was due to arrive – I felt it was a good idea to introduce myself to the staff and the manager. It was an icebreaker and certainly made me feel more confident about what to expect. I was able to ask about workload, who I would be working with and what were the department’s expectations of me as well as being able to ask directions to find the place!
Locum positions in mortuaries are usually there to provide extra cover for annual leave or long term sickness absences of the employed staff and the expectations are that as a locum you will do exactly what you are trained to do – assist at post-mortem examination, receipt / release of the deceased, viewings of the deceased and any other mortuary related task expected.
On the first day in most departments I was expected to read and acknowledge the local risk assessments etc and given a short tour of the facilities – usually following this it was straight to work with the expectation that you should know exactly what to do – even in a strange PM room!
There were times when the work could be lonely; not only was it difficult sometimes to be away from family and friends but occasionally I was placed in departments where there were no, or very few other APT staff around.
As a locum I needed to be adept at building good short term working relationships with people I had never met or worked with before, especially as people can have different expectations of how mortuaries should be managed and daily workload handled. This was challenging but was an excellent opportunity to build a strong network of support from other APTs around the UK which is essential as a locum – you need to have a good reputation.
I tried to keep my knowledge and skills as up to date as possible – I became a member of the AAPT which helped enormously in the transient position of a locum. The regular updates kept me aware of changes within the profession.
I was always well supported by Karen from the locum agency and I found that by working hard, maintaining high standards of care for the deceased and bereaved (and keeping out of the local politics…) I was able to maintain regular work and was often asked back to the same departments, which as a locum is great!
I have held my current substantive post for the last 6 years, but I feel my time as a locum was essential in my development, especially now I am a Mortuary Manager… having worked in a lot of different departments I have been able to essentially “cherry pick” the best working practices and ideas from all over the UK and put them into practice into the mortuary here.
I would advise all APTs to do a period of locum work – even for a short time. For me the benefits were immense. It gave me confidence in my ability to walk into any department and do a good job; it also introduced me to a lot of amazing APTs who I am now thankful to call friends.
Written by Michelle Lancaster – Mortuary & Bereavement Service Manager
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