Background: There is a growing trend in Great Britain (GB) for pharmacists to work as self-employed "locums" rather than as permanent employees. Despite this trend, little is known about their work patterns or why they choose to pursue nonstandard forms of work.
Objectives: The overall aim of the study was to explore why locums choose self-employment over a permanent contract and to explore a number of issues commonly associated with nonstandard working, such as marginalization and job satisfaction.
Methods: A qualitative interview study was undertaken. In-depth telephone interviews were conducted with 34 locum pharmacists randomly selected from the GB register of pharmacists. Locums from a range of age groups, different sectors of practice, and with different work patterns were selected to ensure that a wide range of experiences and views were covered.
Results: The need or desire for flexibility was the overriding factor for choosing to work as a locum. A wide range and variety of individual personal circumstances were important drivers, but a desire for work-life balance was fundamental to many. A variety of work patterns were found, ranging from those with more ad hoc working arrangements to those who worked in the same store on a regular basis. Avoiding stress, paperwork, and nonprofessional duties were among reasons for choosing to locum. Disadvantages associated with being a locum included being viewed and treated negatively by peers, and having fewer opportunities for training. No conclusive evidence could be found for locums being marginalized, except for the training issues for some pharmacists. The findings do suggest some cause for concern, with some locums selecting places to work on the basis of attitudes not congruent with socially inclusive approaches to public health care.
Conclusions: The locum workforce is far from homogenous or uniform. Freelance working of this kind has advantages for the individual: freedom and independence. But there may be risks for the profession if nonstandard work practices become more widespread: isolation, lack of social cohesiveness, and amoral attitudes. Improving working conditions and practices may prevent pharmacists from leaving permanent positions.