locum lokun life: new beginnings + being a locum vs full-time GP

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This is part of an ongoing monthly series capturing the highs, low (and everything in between) in my working life as a doctor in Singapore. If you’re interested in finding more about medical/non-medical job options or getting answers to doctoring-related questions you’ve always wanted to ask, check out my brand new Chasing Careers series!

To quote High School Musical, ‘this could be the start of something new’. I’m not the best at naming new series, and this was the first title I thought of, so let’s just roll with that.

The Locum Lokun Life series is going to be a slightly tongue-in-cheek, moderately irreverent, and very honest glimpse into life as a GP/General Practitioner in Singapore. And hopefully it’ll help those of you on the fence about leaving Master M decide if the GP lifestyle is meant for you!

*locums are freelance doctors + lokun is a local slang for doctor

Although I’m no longer bound by the ticking months of Master M’s bond, I’m still going to publish this on the 25/26th of every month, because that was the date my batchmates & I counted down to month after month, checking off yet another month of slavery indentured servitude.

(And to those who didn’t get your MOPEX postings of choice for the Jan’23 cycle, hmu if you want to discuss options or find out more abt GP/private sector life!)

the perks of working in one clinic (vs locum/freelancing)

I’ve been fairly under-the-radar about this, but to get everyone up to speed, I’ve spent the past 2 months working as a full-time GP in a clinic, and next week will be my last week there. Yes; I resigned twice in 2022 but let’s not talk about that.

Being an anchor GP comes with its own benefits. The most obvious one would be stability: all you need to do is show up for work according to the hours on your contract, enjoy employee benefits (health coverage, MC, paid leave), and collect your salary.

Another major pro might be job fulfillment and continuity of care. If you decide to stay at one clinic for the entirety of your 40-year career, you could quite possibly be a family’s GP for most of their lives. Some people, especially the Family Medicine residents, would likely feel some surge of joy at the thought of being a ‘cradle-to-grave’ family physician, and that’s great, because that’s exactly what Singapore’s primary care healthcare model is relying on.

On the more practical side of things, it’s a lot more convenient and efficient to have your own clinic and consultation room, where you’re familiar with the room/equipment layout, computer system, workflow, clinic assistants, etc.

But at times, it can feel like you’re a hamster caged in a box (GP consultation rooms don’t usually have windows) and trapped in Groundhog Day when you’re seeing your 50th flu patient for the day, in the same old fluorescent-lit consultation room, for the 100th month in a row.

To put things into perspective, if you’ve ever visited an elderly GP, assuming they’ve been in their clinic for 30 years, that’s 360 months of their life spent working in the same old room…and to me, no matter how much I love clinic-based work, that would be an existential nightmare.

why I’m choosing to be a locum

In the words of Taylor Swift: “I’m the problem, it’s me.”

Do I have commitment issues? Maybe. Do I want the time and freedom to figure out what I actually want out of my life and career? Most certainly.

The main reason why I’m leaving my current full-time role to locum is time. I’ve been working 3 weeknights a week (12-hour days), and coupled with all my social activities on weekends, it’s left me with very little time for my other endeavours.

The whole reason I left MOHH in the first place was so I would have time for my other career & personal pursuits like blogging, travelling, fitness, coding (I’m currently studying Dr Angela Yu’s 100 Days of Python Udemy Course), freelance medical writing and music. And I realised that in my pursuit of money, I had traded off precious time that could have been better spent on upgrading myself.

Concisely, these are the main reasons why I’m making the jump to locum GP life:

  • I signed the contract for this job before going on sabbatical, and came back doubting that decision. Ever since returning from 3 months of soul-searching and exploring the world, I’ve realised that I still haven’t refined my life goals. Working long hours as a full-time employee won’t give me the flexibility and freedom to figure out my future, so I knew I had to give myself more space and time to explore potential paths.
  • I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again – living on autopilot and settling into the tedium of a regular job makes me very uncomfortable. It encourages stagnation, too much passivity and makes you switch your brain off. I fear wasting my limited time on earth stuck in a comfortable but non-challenging environment.
  • I’m commitment-free, which is a huge privilege that most people my age don’t have. Having extremely supportive parents + financial independence + no housing loans + no significant other that I have to consider when making decisions means I have virtually unlimited freedom to do whatever I want in terms of my career, travelling and personal life. When granted a golden opportunity like that, I’d be a fool to not grab it and run.
  • A schedule that’s 100% flexible. I’m able to work as hard or as little as I want, according to my monthly financial targets, projected expenditure, and travel plans. For example, I’ve chosen to work for just 17 days in December, and spend the rest of the year-end period travelling or enjoying quality time with friends & family.

Some obvious cons might be: the lack of a steady income, no medical benefits/CPF, and being vulnerable to potential changes in the industry, but at this crossroads in my life, I’ll take my chances.

Locuming might not be everyone’s piece of cake, but I find it empowering to be the one in charge of your own schedule and your own life, especially after having lived month by month waiting for the team and call roster in hospital, never being able to make plans further than a few weeks ahead.

what I’ll miss about my clinic

It’s definitely bittersweet, considering how much I’ve enjoyed working in my current clinic – but alas, after giving it a shot for the past 8 weeks, I decided that while I genuinely like GP work, being anchored in one place for too long isn’t my cup of tea, and now I’ll have to say goodbye again.

2 months is not a long time, but also not so abbreviated that I wasn’t able to get slightly attached to the neighbourhood and the people I met along the way. In a slightly cheesy tribute, these are some of the things I’m gonna miss:

  • Hands down, I’m going to miss my clinic assistants the most! Coincidentally, almost all of them were my age/fellow 97-ers, and plenty of evenings were spent bantering in between the ebb and flow of patients
  • The fishball stall uncle at the nearby coffee shop. He would begin preparing my order as soon as I walked up to his stall because I was a regular and ate there 3-4 times a week without fail.
  • Shoutout to the bak kut teh stall uncle who unhesitatingly let me order on a tab because I didn’t bring enough cash. I paid him back the very next day. :’)
  • Seeing some patients multiple times within 2 months and being able to pick up conversations from where we left off in their last consult. I’ll definitely miss this the most, but at the same time, I don’t want to let sentimentality or duty tie me down to one clinic for the next few decades of my life, like many older GPs do.
  • Driving across the Yishun Dam every morning (and night) while singing along to my favourite songs in my car was also quite the vibe, but I crave long road trips more than just semi-scenic work commutes.
what now?

As 2022 draws to a close, I’m still very much a lost (but thankfully financially independent) twenty-something. I’ve been meeting up with lots of friends, both new & old, to exchange ideas, make insane travel plans, and understand their perspectives on life/work/the future; I’ve never felt more excited about life’s possibilities and where 2023 might take these feet.

There should be a bumper crop of 3 posts in December: on top of my monthly post, I’ll be taking a week-long trip to Vietnam in December (yet another travel post), and writing a possibly emo year-end post.

As always, here’s my song rec for this month – Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero, but the version featuring Bleachers because who doesn’t love Bleachers and some synth-pop?

It’s me, hi!
I’m the problem, it’s me
At teatime, everybody agrees
I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero

I don’t know what adventures I’ll be getting up to in 2023, but if you’d like to tag along, be sure to follow my Insta or like my Facebook page to stay up to date with my posts & life/travel updates. Merry-almost-1-month-to-Christmas, and see y’all again next month!

xoxo,
Faith

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6 responses to “locum lokun life: new beginnings + being a locum vs full-time GP”

  1. Hi Faith! Great post. Would you consider being one of those travelling doctors full time (e.g. working with the WHO on overseas postings to less privileged countries etc.)? Would love to hear your response! and keep up the good work.

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    1. Hey Adam, thanks for stopping by! 🙂 Oh I’d absolutely jump at the opportunity to serve on a medical mission trip/volunteering expedition if given the chance, but definitely not for the long-term due to personal commitments back home~

      Like

  2. If you don’t mind sharing, may I ask what are the work hours like for a full-time GP? E.g. 8am-5pm daily on weekdays? And what is the pay range e.g. 10k per month, compared to that when you were a MOO

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    1. Hey Ivan! The working hours and days (usu 5-5.5 day work week) vary depending on the contract you sign with the clinic/chain, and generally the pay is around low 5-figures for a 40h+ work week!

      Like

  3. Hi Faith! Heard from that med IG account that one can earn 98K/mo as a locum. Would like to hear your thoughts on how feasible / possible that is.

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    1. Hey Ryan, that was during COVID when the govt was paying close to $200/h for COVID-related locum work/in facilities (and people would work 120+ hours a week); however those opportunities have all but dried up, so that’s definitely not a realistic or particularly achievable sum in this current market!

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