Meet a Relief Vet – Dr. Deborah Hirschmann
Soft tissue surgery. Kayaking. Iceland. Craft fairs.
Dentistry. Cooking. Cross-country skiing. Biathlons.
Medical oncology. Genetics. Cytology. Knitting. Reading.
Intrigued? It is definitely safe to say that Deborah Hirschmann has just a few interests up her sleeves. Pick one…possibly two? Licensed in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia, Dr. Hirschmann welcomes expansion. Let her help you out by taking over for a bit, provide your clinic some relief.
Text her. Email her. Cruise her resume. Maybe even drop her a note in French.
What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
Like many vets, I have known what I wanted to do since I was a little kid. My parents weren’t pet people, so I spent a lot of time volunteering at the National Zoo and hanging out with my friends’ pets.
What roles have you had within the veterinary profession? How about outside of this industry?
I’ve done a rotating small animal internship, worked in 24-hour ER practice, done a medical oncology internship, and been a full-time associate veterinarian in an extended-hours and urgent care GP. Outside of vet med, I have done a lot of biomedical research and have an MS in genetics.
What made you switch to relief practice?
I got fired! At the time, it was devastating, but being let go turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to my professional life.
What is your most memorable relief job?
The morning I came in to do surgery and found out I was supposed to remove a basketball sized mass from a lab’s chest. I wasn’t sure how that incision was going to come together, but it did. That is still the biggest mass removal surgery I’ve ever done.
How do you feel that relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?
We fill in the gaps – whether that’s covering for a maternity leave, a vacation, or for a practice that is down a doctor. We can also provide services, like surgery and dentistry, that the practice may need extra help with.
What are your favorite things about being a relief vet?
I absolutely love the flexibility of setting my own schedule, although I have a bad habit of overscheduling myself and then regretting it! I get to focus on the patients and the medicine, and not the hospital politics or drama. I get to spend a larger proportion of my schedule doing soft tissue surgery and dentistry, which I love. Also, by charging hourly, I am compensated appropriately for my time without stressing about making production.
What are your least favorite things about being a relief vet?
The lack of employer health insurance is a real bummer. I miss the relationships I had with long-term patients and clients, especially my chemo patients. Also, as an introvert who absolutely detests talking on the phone, that first phone call with a potential new clinic is really hard for me. Maybe in a few years I’ll have a large enough pool of established practices to keep my schedule full through text and email bookings.
What do you look for in a practice when deciding to cover shifts for them?
Right now, I’m only booking with places that are practicing proper social distancing and allowing adequate time for curbside appointments. I usually only book 1-2 shifts with a new practice to see if we are a good fit before committing to a longer relationship.
What supplies or equipment do you bring with you on the job?
My stethoscope, Pilot Precise V5 RT pens, and cell phone with both my calculator and Plumb’s Drug app. I also have a bag in my car containing Plunkett, JorVet microscope slides, Yunnan Baiyao, a full set of dog muzzles, and my personal dental kit.
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.
It’s really nice to have cross-trained staff members working at your front desk who are familiar with the medicine. Also, I have seen some practices get so bogged down in paperwork trying to capture every charge that their staff members don’t have time to do anything else.
What advice would you give new relief vets? (Alternatively, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about being a relief vet?)
Make sure you have a solid foundation and are confident in your skills. It’s also helpful to learn that there’s no one right way to do something and many paths to get to the same endpoint.
How has the global pandemic affected your relief practice?
Except for a few cancellations at the very beginning of the pandemic, my practice really hasn’t been affected. I have been busier than ever.
What states are you licensed in and/or states you are working to obtain licensure within?
RI, MA, and VA. I may want to expand that in a few years.
Aside from English, what language(s) do you speak?
I took 12.5 years of French in school…I’d like to think I can still sort of speak it?
What are your hobbies / passions outside of work?
I am a big supporter of art and artists, and I visit crafts fairs whenever I can. I wear my craft jewelry to relief jobs along with my scrubs – how else would I get to enjoy it? Travel is a big passion that is obviously on hold right now; my last trip was to Iceland in March 2020 right before the pandemic closed everything down. Otherwise, I spend my time reading, knitting, cooking, watching cross-country skiing and biathlon, and waiting for kayak season.
To learn more or contact Dr. Deborah Hirschmann, click here.