It began with a bird…and ended up with cats!

With an avian adoration igniting her career, Dr. Michele Donathan soon realized her love for all things feline. Being both Fear-Free and Feline Friendly certified, her ability to adapt shines. This fulltime Florida relief veterinarian has sound advice for those just starting out in the relief world – just scroll on down and read!


What inspired you to become a veterinarian?

It’s very cliché, but I always knew that being a veterinarian was what I wanted to do. That being said, I took a different path for the first part of my life and went into biotechnology and vaccine research fields. At 32, I decided to go back to school and earn my DVM because of my Goffin’s Cockatoo, Kahlan. I looked at her one day while we were playing and just knew that I should have pursued veterinary medicine all along. At that time, my goal was to become an avian veterinarian because they are so hard to find, but of course things changed during and after school, and now my love is feline medicine.


What roles have you had within the veterinary profession? How about outside of this industry?

I’ve had many roles over the course of my life. I have been a veterinary receptionist, so I sympathize with how hard their jobs really are, especially now with COVID added to the mix. I was also a vet tech for many years before I changed gears and went into biotechnology and research. In those industries, I was a customer service specialist, a laboratory technician, a DNA sequencing lab manager, and a research associate for HIV vaccine research. Since becoming a veterinarian, I have been an associate at several clinics, and about 2 years ago started dabbling in relief services on the side. In March of this year, I took the plunge and am relief full time now.


 What made you switch to relief practice?

A flexible schedule is what the deciding factor was. I was working full-time in a regular day practice and having to do relief work on the side to pay bills. I was stretching myself far too thin just to make ends meet. After thinking about it long and hard and discussing the change with my boss and best friend from veterinary school, I decided that I should try relief work full time.


What is your most memorable relief job?

I would have to say working at Flagler Animal Hospital – which does day practice and emergency work, all the while being fear-free. I have worked at other emergency clinics that were not, and it’s so refreshing seeing fear-free being used in this capacity. The staff is amazing, and they go out of their way to make sure their relief vets are happy and taken care of. I was very lucky, and at the time of writing this, was covering a 3 month maternity leave for them.


How do you feel that relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?

I like to believe we help provide another avenue for work-life balance that is increasing in need in our profession every day. I am happy to be able to do what I love and also help practice owners and associates take the time off they need.


What are your favorite things about being a relief vet?

There are so many things I love about relief work! Most notably is probably the change in scenery at each different practice I go to, as I get very bored being in one place for a long period of time. I enjoy cultivating new friendships with the other veterinarians and technicians, and relief work definitely provides that opportunity. Finally, I get to be my own boss when it comes to my schedule, and I can plan for trips and events as I need to.


What are your least favorite things about being a relief vet?

My biggest fears right now are probably the uncertainty of being able to fill up my calendar along with the possibility of cancelations for those shifts already booked, but that’s mostly because I am newer to doing this full-time, I’m sure.


What do you look for in a practice when deciding to cover shifts for them?

Mostly I’m looking for small animal practices, hours of operation during the daytime, and a management staff that is open and responsive. A huge plus is if the clinic is Fear-Free certified or Feline Friendly certified (as I am both) but that is sometimes hard to find.


What supplies or equipment do you bring with you on the job?

I have my trusty stethoscope of course; I love my Littman Cardio IV! After that, I have a backpack full of items I use on a daily basis. Those include fear-free items like treats and an ear thermometer, my tablet for on the go work I might have to do, a carabiner with suture scissors, bandage scissors, and a hemostats, and of course personal care items like spare deodorant (you never know when you’ll need it and you’re far away from home sometimes!)


Have you picked up any unique practice tips while being a relief vet? These could be related to medicine, workflow, practice organization, or anything really.

Everywhere I go I seem to learn something new, as everyone has their own techniques for certain things. Most recently, I found that using a Feliway towel inside of a clean cat litter box (just big enough for the cat to lay in and hide) is a huge hit with my scared feline friends. I used to use only the Feliway towels, and the cats would try to run off the table in some instances, but the addition of the litter box solves that problem, and they feel safer.


What advice would you give new relief vets? (Alternatively, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about being a relief vet?)

To anyone thinking about becoming a relief veterinarian: You have to be open to change, and if you don’t like new experiences on a daily basis, it’s probably not the right fit for you. I love walking into a new clinic and getting to work right away, but this would bother many veterinarians. It can take some time to get used to the flow in a particular clinic, but rely on their technicians, as they are usually happy to help and are a great resource (especially for all the different software programs out there). I would recommend setting up your finances and bank accounts appropriately before you get too involved. It makes time tracking much easier in the long run. I use QuickBooks and a remote accountant for questions all the time. You need a business checking account and a business money market at the very least. I’m now considering a business credit card, too, to earn rewards points on purchases. Also, don’t burn any bridges as you never know where you will end up and who you will be helping out in the future! I have built up a vast network of colleagues over the past 5 years that has helped to fill my calendar up when I needed it.


How has the global pandemic affected your relief practice?

For some odd reason, the veterinary world has seen an increase in traffic within their clinics,  and at the same time I feel like there is a shortage of veterinarians. The combination of those things has helped my relief practice grow by leaps and bounds, even though I only started fulltime relief work in March of 2021. I was completely surprised by this phenomenon. I was expecting the opposite to happen during the pandemic, especially back when I was a fulltime associate in general practice.


What states are you licensed in and/or states you are working to obtain licensure within?



Aside from English, what language(s) do you speak?



What are your hobbies / passions outside of work?

I enjoy sampling new craft beers and traveling, which can go hand in hand. I am Irish, so Ireland is definitely on my bucket list, but I would also love to see Australia and go on an Alaskan cruise. I am also a fitness enthusiast, which helps offset my love for craft beer! Right now, I’m working through 100 Day Meltdown from Beachbody.


To learn more about or to contact Dr. Michele Donathan, click here.