Meet A Relief Vet – Dr. Jeff Klemens
What a fun night throwing back some cocktails with Dr. Jeff Klemens in Las Vegas at the WVC conference in February. You remember. When we could gather, enjoy each other’s company less than 6 feet apart, and communicate with a full range of facial expressions. Let me tell you, this guy is great company and an outstanding example of relief practice entrepreneurship. Check out his highly professional presence at Reliable Relief Services.
What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
When I was in eighth grade a veterinarian from a local clinic came to talk to our class. She brought a lovebird and a cat and talked to us about being a veterinarian. She gave us all a magnet with the hospital logo on it. I put my magnet on the inside of a simple toolbox I made in industrial arts class. It was then that I decided professional chef wasn’t it anymore, and my genetic predisposition for being a veterinarian was switched on. I say genetic predisposition because of my maternal grandfather who very much wanted to be a veterinarian. So much so he ran away from home as a teenager and joined the Brownie Bros. Circus and became a horse groom. He was deployed during WWII and never made it to being a veterinarian. Oh, remember that magnet? When I was in high school, like many of us, I got a job at a local clinic as a kennel assistant. This was where I cut my teeth in the profession and worked over 2000 hrs. as an assistant before applying to vet school. It was also the same clinic with the logo on my magnet from 8th grade, so perhaps it was fate.
What roles have you had within the veterinary profession? How about outside of this industry?
As a veterinarian, I have always been an associate until starting my relief practice. I’ve worked as a kennel/grooming assistant, as well as a room/surgery assistant, and even spent a few days as a CSR while getting my experience before vet school. Outside of veterinary medicine I’ve spent a few short stints in the restaurant industry as server and busser. Included is 2 months working the late shift as a sandwich artist at the Subway in Purdue West. Serving sandwiches to drunk college kids at 12 AM is not a good time. I was rescued by a data entry position at the beef cattle research farm at Purdue. It was great and I could hit numbers on a keyboard real fast. One day the study coordinator came in, gathered the six of us on the project, and said thanks for your work but we won’t be needed after today. The company running the study had changed leadership and the study was scrapped. The first and only time I’ve ever been laid off. A dose of perspective at an early age. Good news though, shortly after I landed my final non-veterinary job and spent three years in the catering department at the Purdue Memorial Union. Free meals, a short walk to work, and a paycheck. What more could a college kid ask for? Plus, now I can set a mean table at the holidays.
What made you switch to relief practice?
I was ready for a change. I had already dipped my toe in the thought of ownership and realized that water wasn’t where I wanted to be swimming. I had been doing full-time ER work, mostly nights, at a 24hr non-specialty practice. After four years I was feeling the burn out that a lot of ER vets feel. I just wanted to vaccinate a puppy, maybe meet a client that wanted to be at the clinic that day. The mortality rate and the grind was getting to me. However, I loved some of the personal freedom my 14-16 shifts per month was giving me. I had been doing some relief work on the side and was enjoying the change of pace. I felt that I could make a run at full-time relief work in any metropolitan area given what I was finding in my part of Northwest Indiana. It seemed the perfect marriage of what I wanted. I could have my proverbial cake, and eat it too. So I made a six-month battle plan and started working on a name in June of 2017. Six months later, Reliable Relief Services LLC was born.
What are your favorite things about being a relief vet?
Number one, and still champion, is control of the schedule. I have hobbies and goals outside of my profession, they are getting a lot more attention these days. I’ve been asked, I’m sure as many of you have if I would consider a full-time position at a hospital. My canned response is, “Absolutely, but my asking price is a quarter million a year. You shouldn’t pay me that much, it’s not a reasonable salary, but it’s your money.” That’s what having control of the schedule means to me. Beyond that, I enjoy the variety. I’m a pretty extroverted person so I enjoy working with different people. I enjoy the challenge of not always having my “go-to” therapeutics available. I think I’m becoming a better clinician having to utilize the variety of clinics I work in. Really though, having complete control of your work schedule, you should try this.
What are your least favorite things about being a relief vet?
Honestly, it’s paper records. Particularly paper records without PE stickers. I think a lot of people would say lack of case follow up but I got used to that working in ER. I also do get to follow up at some of the clinics when I’m there for several weeks or over maternity coverage. I type so much faster than I write, but I have learned to print quickly and come prepared with my own PE stickers now.
How do you feel that relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?
I look at my role as part of a local support system. My hope is that as more clinicians choose relief work and this support system grows for our colleagues. As relief vets, we are there when you need a mental health break or are feeling burned out. We are there when you want more time with your family, or you want more time for hobbies, or you just want to go on a vacation. I think collectively the relief community can really improve the quality of life for our profession as a whole.
What supplies or equipment do you bring with you on the job?
I carry a shoulder bag with my stethoscope, nametag, a change of scrubs, my tablet that contains a small digital library in case the library in the clinic is sparse, a pair of tiny nail trimmers for cats, a pair of 8.5 sterile gloves, a signature stamp, a pair of well-sharpened mayo scissors, a set of calipers for VHS measurement, and an assortment of OTC cold/pain meds. There is also an average amount of random paperwork, a rotating assortment of energy/granola bars, my water bottle, and a tiny first aid kit.
What do you look for in a practice when deciding to cover shifts for them?
I’m an adventurous person by nature so I’ll try just about anything once. I do a practice visit before my first shift at any clinic. If the request is just for a day or two I’ll likely agree to the work without an onsite visit because I’ve already done my due diligence on the interwebs. If the request is for a prolonged period of time I try to visit the practice first and make sure my Spidey senses don’t get tingly before committing.
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.
I’ve seen some creative forms of scheduling, and clinics that use a call center. The call center is a great idea if you can do it. There are CSRs that only answer the phone and that area is away from clients. In-room staff or CSRs at the front handle payment. It really helps to get clients in and out more smoothly. I’ve also seen clinics that have set up an in-hospital pharmacy with a dedicated tech for refills, prescription diet pick up. I was at a clinic that used its social media for a pet photos contest and they turned the winners into photo canvas art for their lobby. It’s not very expensive and they rotate every two to three months. The client gets to keep the photo canvas if they want when it comes down. It’s a great way to bond your clientele with your clinic.
What is your most memorable relief job?
I think it’s more about the cases that the shifts themselves. I’ve met a cat with six limbs (double pelvis, four rear limbs, I have photos and radiographs) I’ve seen a dog with a gum wrapper nasal foreign body, a double rear limb amputee with a custom Harley Davidson wheelchair just to name a few. I’ve had some great pitch-ins with some of the clinics. I’m always down for a hospital pot luck. I make a mean black bean salad dip for tortilla chips.
What advice would you give new relief vets? (Alternatively, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about being a relief vet?)
The most important thing is don’t do this if you can’t say no. If you don’t protect your personal time, no one is going to do it for you. I’ve found myself looking at the schedule and thinking, “Who did this? Why am I working 13 out of 14 days?” Well, it was 5 months away and I wasn’t paying attention. You have to be a forward thinker and a good planner to maximize the benefits of controlling the schedule. You also need to not mind commuting. If you don’t like driving regularly you might reconsider. How do you feel about meeting new people? All, the time. This is probably not the job for the ultra introvert. Lastly, you have to be the Swiss. Neutral. You will hear the drama, you might see the drama, don’t be the drama. Be on time, be friendly, leave clear and concise medical records, and keep your opinions to yourself.
What are your hobbies/passions outside of work?
I love to travel. I love craft beer. I love all things gaming, especially board games. I really love doing all those things at the same time. I’m a die-hard Miami Dolphins fan and still follow my Boilermakers. I’d rather spend my money on experiences, not things. I love to cook, and have aspirations for some culinary instruction or night class. Official work holidays include the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, GenCon, and the owner’s birthday. I love all things Sci-fi. I’m Marvel, not DC, and I’m Star Wars, not Star Trek. I’m a conservationist, and I love a good hike. In a private moment, I may enjoy late 90’s pop music, but my Spotify library is all over the place. I’m a pocket gardener, and I’m remarkably crafty for someone with a Y chromosome. I get that from my dad. I can make you a Christmas Caroling Snoopy out of a pinecone, some cotton balls, and some felt. You should see my scrapbooking, seriously.