Short-term fling with relief becomes passion.
Sounds a bit like an ad, one may say.
Many venture into the relief world seeking to find balance of work & life while providing just that to our colleagues.
We are stressed, overworked, and no longer enjoying the jobs we once loved so dearly.
Well, Dr. Jessica Lovegrove aims to bring relief to an ailing and exhausted field.
Practicing in Tennessee currently, her spare time is spent avidly working to change the view of relief professionals, building a Relief Veterinary Medical Association, partaking in all things crafty, flipping of items large or small, and being an avid martial arts practitioner. Add in a little rusty French proficiency and interest in ASL, and one may also ask if there is a secret superhero cape in her closet.
Name your niche: large animal, small animal, pocket pets, and/or exotics? ER, GP, and/or shelter?
I currently do mostly GP small animal practice with a splattering of ER here and there. I have enjoyed doing mixed and large animal practice including swine and camelids in the past. Because I have just moved and am not a HQHVSN surgeon, I have not connected with many shelters but I haven’t closed that door.
Everyone has a story – what’s yours? What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
To be honest, it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. My parents told me that since I could talk and people could ask me what I wanted to be, I said veterinarian. In college I flirted with other career fields like research and biochemistry, and it only solidified what I wanted to do.
You’ve made the switch to relief practice. Why?
There were many factors that lead to my switch. During Covid, the practice I was at lost most of their support staff, and staffing 6 doctors became difficult. At the same time, I began to have increased family obligations several states away. Relief was a win-win for all involved. What started out as a short-term fling turned into a passion. I loved being able to meet and support so many practices and veterinarians that just needed, well, relief. When we moved from Texas back to Tennessee, it really was easy just to continue my business.
How do you feel that relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?
How many times have we heard of practice owners not taking a vacation for years? What about associates that feel guilty for being injured, sick, emotionally done because their colleagues have to pick up the slack? What about that practice owner that will have to close the practice for the day if they cannot find someone? Relief provides a solution to all of these problems.
On top of this, I have been a mentor to new grads, an informal practice consultant (I see so many practice models), and can bring in a behavioral focus that maybe wasn’t present in clinics before. I have also been brought in to cover the work-ins and overflow that the primary veterinarians just could not get to. Relief veterinarians provide exactly what the name implies, relief to an ailing and exhausted field.
Outside of the veterinary realm, what types of positions/professions have you been involved in?
I have been involved in event coordination both formally and informally.
What roles have you had within the veterinary profession?
Prior to relief, I worked as a mixed animal associate then a small animal associate veterinarian. I started relief 8 months into practice.
Keeping it PG, what is your most memorable relief job?
Oh dear, I have so many. I think my most rewarding was the day I covered for a clinic whose veterinarian and owner had just passed away. I didn’t know the full story until I showed up that morning. The owner’s family was desperately trying to just tend to clients while they arranged the funeral and tried to fathom selling the practice. I was able to review all their ongoing patients, many who needed routine follow up or daily medications. I got as many patients as I could set up with refills on medications or referred out for continued care. It was great to provide peace of mind and comfort to the family of a colleague even if I had never met him.
What are your favorite things about being a relief vet?
I love the variety of people I get to meet and places I get to go. I love the challenge of having to be flexible in how you practice and the breadth of knowledge I gain. I love that I am providing one of my colleagues a break all while protecting my own mental health. I love that I am able to be available for my family more completely.
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 am not sure if they are practice tips, but I think some of the biggest things I have learned have been the following:
- Support staff are so important. As a relief veterinarian I can see a big difference when I walk into a clinic with a well-trained staff. Your day is so much easier and better. I would also say that we are much more profitable.
- Don’t be afraid to refer or seek consult. I make it my goal to practice without an ego. Being only 3 years out of school now (geez it doesn’t even seem like that long), I am happy to be up front and honest with clinics and pet owners about what I don’t know. Most pet owners appreciate it more than you would know.
- Protect yourself emotionally and mentally. I am not a better veterinarian when I am overworked, under fed, exhausted, and emotionally spent. When I take care of myself first, I am a better doctor.
How about your least favorite things about being a relief vet?
I think my least favorite and one of the things I want to try to positively change is the judgement the relief field gets. I hear all the time that we are just a bunch of people who couldn’t get a job normally (not true, I have no shortage of job offers) or we are too lazy to work a normal amount of hours. I know a lot of relief vets who work more than they did as an associate. Most of us want to help our colleagues. A lot of us have personal reasons or family reasons that keep us in this field, a lot of which we choose not to share with clinics. Every time I have thought about accepting a job offer, I think about all the other clinics I routinely work with that would have no one. That thought gives me real anxiety.
What advice would you give new relief vets? (Alternatively, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about being a relief vet?)
This may not seem like great advice but honestly, just do it. Take a leap of faith. Contact me or one of the many other relief vets with questions. I have felt nothing but supported by my relief colleagues. I started as a baby vet feeling like there is no way anyone would take me on as relief and ended up with lifelong friendships and some great mentors. If you do it for a few months and hate it, chances are you have been relief at several places trying to hire. You just had an extended working interview. Also, if you are afraid that you won’t have work, contact other relief vets. I have like 6 practices I would be happy to refer people to. Most of us have more work than we can cover.
What do you look for in a practice when deciding to cover shifts for them?
I honestly don’t have too much I look for. Distance from me (obviously also making sure I am licensed to work at that location). I also require 2 non-surgical shifts before I agree to do surgeries to make sure I am comfortable with staff/equipment/protocols. I think for me it’s really after the first shift where I can identify any deal breakers on my returning.
These include dangerous or severely toxic work environments (if I want to cry or am angry after leaving a shift for any reason then I won’t be returning), if staff are so miserable they are routinely found crying or disappear to cry frequently throughout the day (I have had it happen), or if I am expected to uphold medical care far below the standard of care and receive flack/threats for not doing so.
I also like to keep in mind that sometimes myself and a practice do not jive. They honestly are probably a great practice, but just not a good fit for myself and I am not a good fit for them. No hard feelings on that and I don’t take it personally if they don’t wish me back.
Pathologically prepared or minimalist: what supplies or equipment do you bring with you on the job?
Minimalist, haha, but not entirely by choice. I am going to be honest. I have ADD and would forget my own head if it wasn’t attached some days. I have one bag that I bring necessary required paperwork, a stethoscope, I try to remember a pen, and snacks. I have learned to make do with what is present. Sometimes I bring treats or spray cheese with me if needed. I keep most of my resources on my phone and I have a few textbooks in my truck, but I would probably forget anything beyond the necessities.
The world is reopening from the pandemic. Has this shift back towards normality affected your relief practice?
It has not yet, at least not greatly enough that I have noticed.
What states are you licensed in and/or states you are working to obtain licensure within?
Currently only Tennessee (where I currently practice) and Texas (where I used to practice)
Aside from English, what language(s) do you speak?
Mainly English. I used to be proficient in French but have lost it somewhat the past few years. I hope to one day learn ASL.
What are your hobbies/passions outside of work?
I am currently slowly working with an excellent group of people to try to build a Relief Veterinary Medical Association. We are still in the early stages but are hoping to start gaining traction soon.
Outside of veterinary medicine, I am a very creative person. If there is a craft out there, I have probably done it. I love writing fiction, and my husband and I enjoy flipping everything from furniture to houses and vehicles. I am also an avid martial arts practitioner and have practiced Tae Kwon Do, Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, and Krav Maga.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I really hope to one day move the relief profession from being viewed as a temporary, only-because-you-have-to, job to a complete specialization of medicine within itself. I feel the relief field has so much to offer to the welfare of the veterinary field. I want to be a part of making improvements that could drastically improve the health and wellbeing of all my colleagues.
For more information on Dr. Jessica Lovegrove, or to contact her, please click here!