Before apprehensively jumping into relief practice five years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I had only worked with locum vets at previous practices. I never really asked them about their work life or what went into the business side of relief work. I was just glad they were there. After moving to a new state, I found the opportunity to pursue relief practice myself.
Fast forward to the completion of my first year working relief, and I was thriving! I had so many requests that I was actually turning down potential work. I was not overworked. I was happy, not stressed, and had time to travel and to spend with my family.
I had found my home as a locum veterinarian.
So where did I start? Where should you start? How do you comfortably navigate becoming a veterinary relief professional? Well, you make the following five areas of relief work a priority.
1 and 2: Finances and Legal
Find yourself a great certified personal accountant and a good lawyer that can help you iron out a contract for your potential employers. Having a solid game plan for your relief practice will help remove a lot of variables and stress about your job.
It sounds pretty simple: set your own hours. For me, I knew that I didn’t want to work overtime if avoidable. I adjusted my rates to make it in my clients’ best interest to get me out on time while also being fairly compensated for my services. I never feel guilty for leaving on time or staying late.
As associate veterinarians, we are never really expected to deal with money, but poor contracts and compensation are often the first reasons many look for a new job. We as veterinarians need to learn financial literacy, whether we have a small business or not.
As independent contractors, relief veterinarians have to stick to our financial plans. This is where we have the most control of how busy we need to be in order to meet personal budgets. Do not be afraid to ask for your worth. Assess your local market annually to see if there is a need to raise your rates along with economic inflation.
5: Clinical practice
Ask what duties will be expected of you and what roles veterinary technicians and assistants have in the practice. If you do not feel comfortable performing particular surgeries or allowing unlicensed technicians to perform certain tasks, outline this prior to taking a job. Having a contract will help keep everything in writing and everyone on the same page. Do not accept a job that does not align with your standards of care, no matter how good the pay.
An unanticipated bonus
Once I began locum practice, I realized that my communication skills improved. More and more clients were asking if I could be their regular vet. Meaning no disrespect to my employers or other associates whatsoever, I found myself able to only focus on the patients seen that day, to focus exclusively on them and hear their owners’ genuine concerns.
The more you focus on the reasons your employers hired you (to help their clients), the more you will grow as a clinician.
As a relief doctor, you must be more than a warm body to fill the appointment slots. You must connect with staff, with clients, and with colleagues.
Making these five areas a priority helped me put into practice what I thought being a veterinarian was going to be like when I was in school. We help pets and their owners to live happy and healthy lives.
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