Relief Vet 101 - How to Become a Relief Veterinarian - Tips and Advice

This guide will teach you the basics of what you need to know to become a relief veterinarian.

It’s full of tips, tricks, and advice from an experienced relief vet.

Let’s jump right in…

Table of Contents:

Click on a chapter to jump to that section.

  1. Benefits of Being a Relief Vet
  2. Relief Vet Skill Set
  3. Benefits of Hiring a Relief Vet
  4. Clinic Tips for Maximizing Relief Vet Days
  5. Setting Up Your Relief Business
  6. Finding Relief Work
  7. How to Charge
  8. Relief Contracts
  9. What to Carry With You
  10. Licensing in Multiple States
  11. DEA License
  12. Insurance
  13. Taxes

The Benefits of Being a Relief Vet

Working as a relief or locum veterinarian is an exciting and viable career choice within the veterinary profession. The need for this business to business service is growing along with the exploding pet population. Veterinary hospitals are accommodating more clients and pets into the same number of working hours. Some are adding associates to help with the work load but some are not.

With this added demand on veterinarians, there’s a greater need to share the work load and allow time for recuperation from the stresses of the job. In addition, more people are choosing to have control over their work schedules to balance other life responsibilities and desires, such as children, volunteer work, elder care, or travel. Being or hiring relief veterinarians can help restore balance to the profession.

There are many advantages and, admittedly, some disadvantages to working as a relief veterinarian. Let’s start with the upside. (Sometimes there’s a downside to the upside and we’ll talk about that too.)


Tailoring your own work schedule to suit your lifestyle and budget is a huge advantage. Do you need all of your weekends off to accommodate your children’s schedules? Then don’t work weekends.

Is your favorite yoga class on Thursday nights and as an associate you could never get out on time to attend? Then don’t pick up shifts or only agree to work 1/2 days on Thursdays.

Do you have a big project you are working on and need to take a month off from work to pursue it, then do that if your budget allows.

And speaking of budget, there is flexibility in that too. If you know you want to take a month long sabbatical, pick up extra shifts for the months prior to pay for the time off. You get the idea. It’s a way to curate a work load and income that is not always possible when you are an associate or owner.

However, working relief can sometimes inhibit flexibility as well.

As an associate, if an interesting opportunity comes up that you’d like to attend, even if it’s fairly short notice, you can often take a personal day to make that happen. However, if you’ve booked relief, it’s best for your reputation that you never, ever back out on a job unless it’s a serious emergency. To remain completely professional and to stay in business long term, you will have to forgo that spontaneous opportunity.

But again, you have some level of control over this situation. You decide how far in advance you will book. Clinics may ask you to book way ahead, sometimes even up to a year in advance. If it works for you to have the security of a fully booked long term schedule, then that is great. But if you want to leave your life open to unexpected opportunities, then choose an advance booking system that balances security and spontaneity.


If you loathe the routine of going to the same place day in and day out, then you may love the variety of relief work. Serving an assortment of clinics keeps things fresh and exciting.

Within a few months you may work larger practices and smaller ones, wellness based and those with more diagnostic equipment and an emphasis on work-ups, corporate and independently owned, shelters, and emergency hospitals.

Each type of clinic has their own work flow and set of client expectations. Each individual clinic has their own culture and unique soup of staff personalities. Adapting your medical, communication, and business styles to the different circumstances is an interesting challenge.

I certainly enjoy working relief at my favorite hospitals but I always love that first day working at a new clinic. There is a thrill, (and slight discomfort), in the surprise of finding out how the day is going to flow, meeting new people, assessing the clinic vibe, and finding out how others practice.


This one may seem counterintuitive since changing clinics frequently would seem to make you less a part of a team. To the contrary, what I’ve found working veterinary relief in multiple states, many clinics, and a variety of sectors is that I have a deeper connection to our profession.

I’ve had the opportunity to see how we are alike and how we differ, how team dynamics contribute or detract from a productive day, and how mining and sharing the collective wisdom that exists in practices can improve the knowledge base. Relief vets often serve the same clinics repeatedly and do become a valued member of the clinic team.


Veterinary relief work can be a great way to help fund exploration of another part of the country or world. I have used this as a vehicle to support spending time enjoying the mountains of Montana, the Lake Tahoe region of California and the Pacific NW beauty of Washington.

International veterinary relief or locum tenens is an option as well. Of course, some planning is required as specific licensing or other regulatory needs for the proposed location must be assessed, but the process is often relatively simple.


Every time – literally every single time – I work relief, I am thanked.

Being available to provide solid medical expertise to start new cases or provide seamless care in ongoing cases is highly valued. The benefit of having a relief vet with sound interpersonal skills to interact with staff effectively and support the pet owner’s bond to the clinic doesn’t go unnoticed.

Depending on the longevity of your relationship with the clinic, you will be treated like one of the family, receiving staff discounts, invitations to clinic parties and continuing education events.

Skill Set of a Relief Veterinarian

An effective relief veterinarian has the medical, surgical, and communication expertise requisite of all vets. But there are additional skills required to thrive in this niche.


Flexibility is paramount. Availability of products, diagnostics, and staff proficiency will vary widely.

Some clinic cultures are fast paced and hectic, others are relaxed. Some clinics will have highly skilled staff and others will be limited requiring you to engage your technical expertise.

Practices will have different work flows and the day will proceed more smoothly if you adapt rather than having them adjust to your style. Deep knowledge of appropriate antibiotic choices, different suture options, and alternative sedation protocols will come in handy.

Dressing to conform to a clinic’s standards helps as well. If it is a scrub clinic then wear scrubs. If it is a lab coat clinic, wear one. If it’s a street clothes clinic, then dress professionally but appropriately for a day of work which will likely involve crawling around on the floor. No matter what you wear, use a name tag or scrubs / lab coats with your name embroidered. This helps staff and clients in case they can’t remember or don’t know your name.

Confidence and Humility

A combination of confidence and humility works well. Confidence is required since you may be the only doctor on staff and will need to rely on your own analysis of cases. In addition, you will be called upon to lead groups of people that you may not know very well.

On the flip side, have the humility to recognize and admit to staff and clients when you don’t know the answer. Don’t be afraid to research, call a colleague, consult with a specialist, or ask the technician how their clinic typically handles different types of cases. Listen to technicians and assistants as they are a wealth of information.

Of course, the final decision lies with you and you must comfortable with your clinical judgement which brings us right back around to confidence.

Record Keeping

Meticulous record keeping will help the vets who take over the case when you are gone. Remember that sometimes the vets that come next in the process are other relief vets and are picking things up from scratch just like you were.

Don’t just record what happened but express your recommended plan for further diagnostics and treatment options moving forward. Discern pet owner’s goals and include this in the record as well. Another idea, if it is relevant to the case, is to take photos and attach them to the computerized medical record if applicable or send them to the next vet on duty. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Find out if the practice has computerized records, which software they use, and ask them to enter you in the system ahead of time so you can jump right in and get to work without delay.

This type of record keeping will provide a roadmap for others, increase client confidence with the practice, and make work flow smoother and more efficient for the entire medical team.


Be reliable. Once you’ve booked a job, only the most serious of situations should make you back out or not show up. This is how a relief work schedule can actually be more rigid than that of an associate or owner. As an employee you may be able to take a personal, sick, or vacation day with relatively short notice. This is not so as a relief vet. You must be dependable to maintain your reputation and the respectability of locum vets as whole.

Be Helpful

There will be times as a relief vet when your primary responsibilities are complete and you are waiting for the next case. Sometimes the appointment book will be light and you may find yourself with a lot of free time.

While it is perfectly valid to use this time to read up on journals, record your mileage, or prepare your invoices, you may also use the time to make yourself useful to the practice as a whole. If you are working with other doctors, ask if they have any call backs that you can handle. If you see technicians that need assistance, then help them. If you see laundry that needs folding, then fold it.

These tasks are certainly not your job and will never be expected of you, but small acts of helpfulness will go a long way to ingratiating yourself to a clinic and make you feel good as well.

Curiosity and Open Mindedness

Stay open minded and curious. Observe, listen, and remain open to suggestion, overt or implied, and you’ll learn new sedation protocols, a million ways to treat ear hematomas, how to use that new product you’ve seen advertised but have never used, novel and effective ways to communicate with clients and staff, along with many other useful things.


Above average interpersonal communication skills are essential.

Communicating with staff members

Staff will not be used to your communication shortcuts and won’t be able to read your mind and anticipate your needs the way they sometimes can with their staff vets. You must be very clear so the team can work well together.

Sometimes staff may be afraid to admit they don’t completely understand what you need and since you may not know their knowledge base it is best always to err on the side of complete clarity.

Maintain a warm, friendly demeanor with staff. This is common sense, but it surprises me how often this is ignored. How well you are liked by the staff is often THE determining factor in whether or not you get asked back.

If you are grumpy, tuck that mood away and pretend you aren’t because your mood will dictate the entire vibe of the clinic for that day.

Communicating with clients

These interpersonal communication skills are equally essential when communicating with clients. It is extra important that you are approachable and kind.

This is their first impression with you and you are a representative of the clinic. If you are curt and unfriendly this will reflect badly on the practice. Use their primary vet’s name when you are communicating about their pet’s medical history.

For instance, “I see that Dr. Smith treated Fluffy for diarrhea last month. Has that problem resolved?” Or, “I see we are following up with the anemia that Dr. Smith diagnosed last week.” This gives the impression of familiarity and collaboration and puts the client’s mind at ease with seeing an unknown vet.

It’s also helpful to develop the art of gleaning a relevant history from the client in the absence of legible or complete medical records. Sometimes you will be required to read between the lines, ask questions of the client, and make deductions without ever saying to them that you don’t know because it’s not in the medical record.

This brings us to our next point…

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Remember your primary client is the practice. Your main responsibility as a relief vet is to support the practice where you are working. This is why they hire you.

Of course, using your best medical assessment to take care or their client’s pets is one of the ways in which you provide this service. This does not mean that you have to practice your veterinary arts in a way that goes against your ethical or medical judgment. However, when you pay attention to your primary client you will see opportunities to support their needs while simultaneously abiding your oath to use your scientific knowledge and skills for the prevention and relief of animal suffering.

For instance, if your client, the practice, has a cold laser, and you believe in its benefits, remember to recommend and support this modality. If you do not have this knowledge, take the time to educate yourself on laser therapy and then make a judgment if you feel comfortable making this recommendation.

Dentistry is another good example. Take the time to explain dental health and support the clinic’s dental practice. This is beneficial to both the patient and the practice’s bottom line.

Pay attention to what products they carry and support the sales of these products if you deem them to be of benefit to the patient. Show positive support for the practice and its team members when communicating with clients.

These actions will show that you have an appreciation for small business and elevate your relief practice.

The Benefits of Hiring a Relief Veterinarian

Rest and Renewal

The mental and physical health of staff is a practice’s most important asset. As we all know, the job of veterinarians and support staff can be stressful, intense, and require long hours. Regular breaks from this type of job are essential for long term productivity and career satisfaction.

Hiring relief vets to mind the practice while owners or associates take that hard earned vacation, personal day, sick day, maternity / paternity leave, or even some longer sabbatical is a wise investment for the health and wellbeing of the business.

Some multi-doctor practices will have their associates pick up extra days to cover the case load of the absent doctor in addition to their own. This coverage strategy creates a cycle of burn out and resentment as associates feel overworked or guilty for having taken time off. Patient care and client satisfaction also suffer under these circumstances as vets and staff try to cram more patients into the schedules of less doctors.

Relief vets are well worth the cost as they help maintain work flow to keep clients happy, pets cared for, and staff sane.

Fresh Ideas

Relief vets are conduits of knowledge exchange, like bees picking up pollen on one flower and bringing it to another. Working across multiple practices of varying sizes and styles, relief vets pick up a range of case management styles, treatment tips, communication strategies, storage ideas, organizational techniques, and more.

This information is absorbed then passed along, adopted, or repurposed to the benefit of other clinics. Our practices benefit from sharing the collective knowledge stored in the community of veterinarians, technicians, assistants, and receptionists.

Examples are TNTC but include the myriad of ways to treat an ear hematoma, efficient ways of staining tape prep cytologies, methods for storing ET tubes, ideas to make euthanasias smoother and more pleasant, and the list goes on and on.

Busy Spurts

Some parts of the country experience seasonal upticks in business but don’t have enough case load to support a year round associate. Relief vets are perfect for this situation since you don’t have the commitment and associated costs of a full time vet.

Some relief vets are willing to travel or live part time in different parts of the country in pursuit of lifestyle and seasonal work, so your relief vet choices may not be limited to a local pool.

Ready for Growth

Perhaps your clinic is experiencing steady growth but you aren’t sure if the practice is ready to support another full time veterinarian. Hire a relief vet for a few months to test the viability of another doctor and evaluate any additional staff needs or work flow modifications required to accommodate this change.

Unexpected Absences

Having a pool of local relief vets with which you are familiar can be very helpful if you find yourself with unexpected absences and need to quickly fill shifts.

Looking for an Associate

Some veterinarians work relief as a specific career choice. For others, relief work is a means to test out the cultures of various practices to find one that fits their style and career aspirations.

These relief practitioners may or may not be forthcoming about their intentions, since they want to see the clinic in its day to day behavior and not just when it’s actively recruiting vets.

If you are looking for an associate you may want to “foster” a relief vet to see if there is an opportunity for a “forever” home. Alternatively, relief vets can provide coverage so you can take your time and find the perfect associate for your practice.

Clinic Tips for Maximizing Relief Vet Days

Don’t Say “Relief”

It’s been advised many times over that reception is the most important function of a clinic when it comes to client impressions and this especially applies when using relief vets.

It is best not to use the “R” word, (relief), when speaking with clients. If receptionists say, “Dr. Associate is not here today but would you like to see the relief vet?”, clients are likely to reply, “Uh…no thanks.” That appointment slot will remain open and you will pay the relief vet at best to read veterinary journals and at worst to play Candy Crush on their phone.

Training your receptionists to say something more akin to, “Dr. Trice, one of our trusted partner vets, is available to see Fluffy today.”

Alternatively, “Dr. Owner is not here today, but her trusted colleague Dr. Trice is filling in to take care of her patients while she’s away.”

Client’s will feel more comfortable seeing an unknown vet if they hear a name and know that this is someone in whom the practice has confidence.

Tell Clients Who They Will Be Seeing

A mistake I’ve seen made on multiple occasions is to refrain from telling the client which vet they will be seeing. This allows the pet owner to assume they will have an appointment with their primary doctor.

Some practices take this approach to make sure the appointments get filled, often with unfortunate results. Clients do not like this! They feel betrayed when a vet other than whom they are expecting walks in the room.

This leaves the relief vet in an awkward position when the client asks why they were not informed that they wouldn’t be seeing their regular veterinarian. It’s best to avoid this situation. If the appointment scheduling is handled appropriately from the first phone call, then the majority of clients will be willing to bring their pets to see the relief vet.

If a staff doctor knows they have patients that will be rechecked or scheduled for a relief vet day, it really helps to prepare clients for this. They can assure the pet owners that although they will not be in the office for the followup, they have confidence in the attending veterinarian’s medical judgement.

In the event of a particularly complicated case, the primary vet may want to round the relief vet directly and then inform the client of that communication.

Staff and Scheduling

Make sure your staff clearly understands the work flow, practice management system, pricing, inventory, medical devices, and diagnostic equipment. Most practices have a few particularly seasoned managers, techs, and receptionists. If possible, make sure they are scheduled on relief days. Relief vets work with many different types of practice management systems and rely on employees to help them navigate the particulars of how each clinic uses the software.

Record Keeping

Keeping clear records is important in any type of medical practice. Yet all of us that have worked as clinical vets know that consistent perfection in record keeping can be hard to attain.

Medical record quality and legibility vary widely. One of the relief vet’s super powers is decoding illegible or incomplete medical records. However, high quality patient care is more efficiently achieved when complete medical histories are more easily discerned. Keep all others who may need to consult the patient’s chart in mind when writing your records. Relief vets will show you the same courtesy.

Work-In Appointments

Encourage clients to bring in their sick, (or well), pets as work-in appointments rather than having them wait to see the primary vet. The pets will be cared for faster, the clients will greatly appreciate having their problems addressed quickly, and the relief vet will be productive for your practice.

Utilize Your Relief Vet’s Skill Set

Find out if your relief vet has special skills that will contribute to your practice. Perhaps they have extra training in dentistry, ultrasound, or surgery. Utilize their expertise on relief days to keep a high standard of patient care and the appointment books full.

Bond Clients to Your Whole Practice

Something I’ve noticed is that the practices that are adept at strongly bonding clients to their practice as a whole instead of to individual doctors only have smoother relief vet days.

These practices have conditioned their clients to accept and trust seeing different doctors. This system works well with tight, unified teams and impeccable record keeping. It can really benefit clients and their pets as appointment slots are more plentiful with this system and different approaches can be taken to medical cases if needed.

The business benefits as well since there is less risk of client drift if associates move on decreasing the need for the strict non-compete. It also tones down competition among production pay based associates and supports cooperation.

Setting Up Your Relief Business

Sole Proprietorships vs. LLCs for Relief Vets

A common question is whether your relief business should be set up as a sole proprietorship or as some type of corporate entity, such as a limited liability company (“LLC”). There are advantages and disadvantages to both and since I’m not a lawyer and not qualified to give legal advice, I can’t tell you which you should choose.

You should always consult with your own lawyer to discuss the best way to operate your business in light of your specific state’s laws, your risk tolerance, and liability exposure.

I can briefly, however, describe some of the general differences between two of the most common ways relief veterinarians operate their businesses, sole proprietorship or an LLC.

Sole Proprietorships

The sole proprietorship is the simplest and most straightforward way to set up a relief business. You can open and operate a sole proprietorship without any formal organizing procedures or legal paperwork and their associated costs.

You also don’t have to be so concerned with keeping personal money and business money separated. However, with this simplicity comes potential risks of personal liability for professional debts or mishaps.


The main protection afforded by setting up a limited liability company (“LLC”) mainly has to do with asset protection in that the owners of an LLC are usually not personally liable for a company debts (including liability from professional mishaps). It is advisable for one to obtain professional liability insurance coverage as a primary line of protection from professional mishaps, regardless of how one decides to operate their business.

The majority of relief vets don’t have many business debts since the equipment and marketing materials we acquire are relatively inexpensive and paid in full upon purchase. Unless one is investing in expensive equipment like an ultrasound machine or endoscope exposure to business creditors is typically minimal.

Again, if you have any questions or concerns about how to best operate your business always consult with a your lawyer.

Accounting System

The next step will be to set up an accounting system. I recommend setting up a separate bank account for your business, although if you are a sole proprietorship, you are usually not legally required to do this. You can keep track of your income and expenses the old fashioned way by manually balancing your checkbook, or you can use one of the available online self employed book keeping systems.


Expenses that you will need to keep track of include equipment purchases (stethoscopes, pen lights, scrubs, lab coats, etc), marketing materials (business cards, letterhead, advertising), association dues, professional fees (accountants, lawyers), insurance (health, disability, liability), continuing education, (books, conferences, memberships), and travel costs (meals, mileage, lodging).

The more precise you are with keeping track of income and expenses, the easier your life will be come tax time. Talk to your accountant about what is appropriate for you to write off concerning mileage, home office, and computer equipment.


Decide to which sectors you would like to provide relief services. Some of the main options include daytime only general practice, night or day emergency clinics, vaccine clinics, or shelters. If you have special skills like surgery, dentistry, ultrasound or endoscopy, you may consider creating a special niche for yourself to handle these types of cases at various clinics.

Travel Decisions

Decide how far you are willing to travel. You may only want to work in your town or are willing to drive 2 hours or more for a job. Consider becoming licensed and working in multiple states as a way to experience another part of the country or spend extended time with geographically dispersed friends or family.

Once you have decided on your sectors of practice and the area you are willing to cover, research appropriate clinics in your area and make a list. This brings us to the next section on how to get work.

Finding Relief Vet Work

Making Contact

Once you have made your list of potential clinics make sure to find out the name of the owner and / or practice manager. Send an introductory letter and your resume to each clinic on your list making sure to personalize each one to the specific owner or practice manager.

Follow up with a phone call and ask if you could come by and meet them in person and see the practice. This serves two purposes. First, people are more likely to remember you when they are in need of relief services if they have met you in person. Second, you get an opportunity to see their practice and make your own initial assessment to see if it’s a place you would be willing to work.

Attend Veterinary Association Meetings

Attend your local veterinary medical association meetings regularly to introduce yourself to unfamiliar colleagues and maintain relationships with those you know. These meetings can be fun and social and often provide free continuing education credits.

Once it’s known that you are a relief vet, sometimes just seeing you at a meeting will remind people that they wanted to take that break and hire relief to fill the gap. I’ve been asked for relief dates, seemingly spontaneously, many times at these meetings.

Find out if your local or state association has lists of relief vets so you can add your name. Our local VMA sends out updated lists of relief vets to its members on a regular basis.

Social Media

Social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook can also be a source of finding work. Join relief vet groups and forums and promote your services on LinkedIn. While living in Florida, I was found on LinkedIn by a California vet needing coverage for maternity leave. This turned out to be a spectacular “Paycation” since it was in the Lake Tahoe area.

National and Local Conferences

National and local conferences are always a great way to meet colleagues. When you share that you are a relief vet, some people will be curious and ask questions about relief work. Some may even ask if you are licensed in their area because they are in need of this type of service.

Conferences are an opportunity for you to promote and represent relief veterinarians elevating this unique professional niche.

Staffing Agencies

There are many staffing agencies that exist to help place you in practices. Some of these companies will allow you to bid on jobs and some treat you like an employee with a guaranteed salary and assign you the relief gigs. Most are regional and can be helpful in finding local relief work if you don’t already have connections. The major disincentive is that the practice pays the company to hire you, and this can take the money out of your pocket.

However, depending on how you run your relief practice this may be worth it as some of these agencies provide significant support with negotiating pay and other detailed business services.

Join Relief Rover!

Join Relief Rover. Relief Rover serves as a platform for community and connection for all stakeholders in the relief vet niche. The site provides community for relief vets to talk shop and share best practices. It has resources for all those interested in the veterinary relief sphere. It also creates opportunity for connection. Connecting relief vets to practices, relief vets to each other, and relief vets to service providers that can help them grow and have more effective businesses.

Join Relief Rover now!

How to Charge for Relief Work

The way most relief vets sort out how to charge for their services is by finding out what the going rate is in their area. This is certainly a quick and easy way to sort out your fees and to make sure that you aren’t over or under charging. However, this may be difficult to find out if you don’t know other relief vets that you can ask.

A more formulaic approach is to make a budget.

First, sort out your veterinary costs as follows:

  1. State licensing fee(s) per year
  2. DEA license fee per year
  3. Education loan repayments
  4. Association dues
  5. Liability insurance
  6. Disability insurance
  7. Business equipment insurance (if necessary)
  8. Memberships (VIN, Plumb’s, VetGirl, etc.)
  9. Continuing Education Costs
  10. Equipment (stethoscope, pen light, scrubs, lab coats, etc.)

Next, figure out your life expenses.

  1. Rent or mortgage
  2. Health Insurance
  3. Renter’s or home owners insurance
  4. HOA fees if applicable
  5. Property taxes
  6. Other home costs, (utilities, cable, internet, etc.)
  7. Child care
  8. Pet care / insurance
  9. Car payment / repair
  10. Groceries
  11. Clothes, entertainment
  12. Travel budget
  13. Disposable Income

Then decide how many days out of the year that you want, or need to work.

In other words, do you want to build in 2 or 4 weeks of vacation into your life?

Do you only want to work 3 or 4 days a week?

What do you need or want your income to be based on the above information?

Are you a single or duel income household? Don’t forget to consider if you have any special skills that you plan to offer, like expertise in ultrasound, surgery, or dentistry – these skills carry a premium and are not offered by all relief vets.

Relief Contracts

Drawing up a contract that clearly outlines the services you are willing to provide, the species you will see, the fee schedule, and the agreed upon dates and times, will eliminate misunderstandings or miscommunications. Be sure to outline the services you will offer, for example appointments only, surgery and what type, dentistry, ultrasound services, endoscopy, etc. The practice should sign and return the contract.

What to Carry With You

The answer to this question very much depends. I don’t carry much with me but rely on the clinic equipment and just work with what I have no matter its state of functionality. I bring my computer, stethoscope, indirect ophthalmoscope, pen light and favorite emergency textbook. Below is a list of things you may want to carry with you. This list certainly isn’t exhaustive but will give you some ideas.

  1. A paper copy of your license for each clinic. It is required by law in many states, (if not all), that your license is on display at the clinic
  2. A copy, (paper or digital), of your DEA license. This is only for your reference and you don’t need to leave a copy with the clinic.
  3. Proof of liability insurance, (digital or paper)
  4. USDA Accreditation number if you have one
  5. Stethoscope
  6. Scrubs or lab coat. I recommend having your name on these items or having a name tag made. This really helps clients and staff avoid the awkwardness of having to ask your name over and over again if they forget.
  7. Pen light. For some reason, I find that this very useful piece of equipment is often missing or inoperable in many clinics.
  8. Indirect ophthalmoscope. I find retinal exams to be much more productive with this piece of equipment.
  9. Your favorite textbook resources. Of course, it is impractical to carry around a bunch of textbooks in your car, (although I did this for years). With online resources so handy and available, there really is no need anymore. However, I always carry an emergency text because I find it is quicker and easier to look things up, especially when you can’t find an available computer.
  10. Laptop. I always bring my laptop and if I can’t get onto the clinic wifi, I use my phone as a personal hotspot.
  11. Loupes. (Magnifying glasses). These can certainly come in handy and not all clinics have them.
  12. A periosteal elevator. This handy piece of equipment makes gingival flaps so much easier yet I find that a lot of clinics don’t have this.

As a final thought, consider that a clinic may be willing to invest in equipment or pharmaceuticals at your request if you frequently provide relief services for them. It never hurts to ask.

Licensing in Multiple States

One of the many reasons that I love being a relief vet is that I can use my skills to take a “paycation”. I carry licenses in multiple states so that I can go temporarily live somewhere, work, and soak in the local lifestyle.

I’m mainly based in Florida but have provided relief services in Montana, California, and Washington. This may or may not be practical or appealing depending on your life and financial circumstances, but it certainly can be a fun way to explore other parts of the country, or even the world.

Some states are more difficult than others to obtain licensing. Go to the individual states professional licensing website and find out what the requirements are and decide if it’s worth pursuing.

Also, don’t forget that some practices may be willing to pay for, or at least support housing and even pay for licensing fees.

DEA License

Ideally, every relief vet has their own DEA license. You must have one if you plan to prescribe controlled substances. If you are only directing administration of controlled substances to patients in the clinic or are dispensing them directly from the clinic, you may be able to do this under that clinic’s DEA license depending on your state’s laws and the type of DEA license the practice owner carries. It is best to check with the Drug Enforcement Agency – – if you have any specific questions as requirements may vary by state.


The main insurance categories that you should consider as a relief vet are professional liability, disability, health, and potentially business property insurance.

Professional Liability Insurance

Professional liability insurance is important for any veterinarian but there are some slightly increased risks as a relief vet. You will likely not have relationships with the clients and if outcomes are not as expected there is potential for blaming the relatively unknown vet.

In addition, you do not have any control over the maintenance and quality of a practice’s medical equipment like anesthesia machines, infusion pumps, diagnostic equipment, and monitoring devices. You may not know the skill level and animal handling capabilities of the staff.

However, you are responsible for the patients that are under your care while working at that clinic so it is important that you are protected against potential claims made against you and your license.

Life Insurance

Life is unpredictable and even though you may not be able to envision a scenario where you won’t be able to work, it can happen. It is best to be prepared with disability insurance. The younger and healthier you are when you sign up, the better your plan will be. You can lock in lower premiums and higher benefits if you plan on this early.

Health Insurance

Health insurance options are bewildering these days, but are important to protect you and your family from serious financial distress. There are insurance advisors that specialize in veterinarians that can help you through the morass.

Business Property Insurance

You may or may not need business property insurance depending on what you carry with you. If you have invested in equipment like a portable ultrasound machine, endoscope, or other costly piece of equipment, then this would be insurance that you should consider.


The subject of taxes and the most tax-efficient way to classify your business is an extremely complex and important subject we all must address. Generally, a relief vet will be classified from an income tax perspective as either an independent contractor or an employee.

If you are acting as an independent contractor, then you should receive a 1099 tax form from each clinic as a means of reporting your income. If you are acting as a relief employee, then you should instead receive a W-2 tax form from each clinic where you worked.

Because I am not a tax advisor, I strongly recommend that you speak with a CPA about how to best classify your business for income tax purposes, how to deal with self-employment taxes, maximizing your available business deductions, and the benefits and burdens of being a relief “employee” vs an independent contractor.

Everyone’s financial situation will differ, so it is important to seek out tax advice to address your specific circumstances.

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Supercharge your relief practice (or start one), by joining Relief Rover today! You’ll have the opportunity to network with other relief vets, get answers to your questions, and find high quality relief work through our job board.

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