Meet A Relief Vet – Dr. Marc Kramer
I’m singing with delight to introduce you to this week’s relief vet, Florida based Dr. Marc Kramer. He’s found a passion for our feathered friends and designed a relief career that allows him to use his talents to help pet owners, practices, and our wildlife thrive. So if you’re looking for a bird guy, Dr. Kramer’s your man.
What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
From rattling off the names of every dinosaur at the age of 2, I’ve always been mesmerized by the animal world. During my college days at Cornell, I embraced the opportunity to steer my career toward working with animals, though I was unsure of exactly which direction I would take. Thanks to a number of inspiring college courses, I became fascinated with birds. One class in particular was extremely influential for me, Bio 221, Intro to Animal Behavior. Taught by several enthusiastic professors, I was fascinated by their field-defining research in behavioral ecology. Soon thereafter, I found myself immersed in avian field work on a remote seabird island in Alaska, then in the neotropical rainforests of Panama, and later doing shorebird work at a wetland in Northern California. Those formative days set into motion an unrelenting enthusiasm for birds. Rather than push my career toward becoming a bird biologist, I opted to put a unique twist on my interests and pursued a veterinary path where I could concentrate my efforts on birds and wildlife conservation issues. I did in fact become a veterinarian focused on the medical care of birds, wildlife, and unusual pets — though my career as it is today spans other veterinary disciplines as well.
What roles have you had within the veterinary profession? How about outside of this industry?
I work within two niche fields: avian/exotic medicine and high-volume spay/neuter surgery, and have been doing it on a relief basis since 2008. Outside of veterinary medicine, my passion for birds has brought me back to my roots and taken me on other parallel paths. In 2018, I began taking side jobs as a birdwatching guide — a dream job that’s always been on my bucket list. Fortunately my relief schedule has allowed me to pursue other interests like this and add some diversity and balance to my life. Along with my wife Eliana, we recently started an ecotourism company called Birding by Bus and now lead birding tours internationally.
What made you switch to relief practice?
After a decade working in avian/exotic private practice, I began to experience some burnout. Working full time, taking overnight/emergency call 5 days a week, working 2 out of 3 weekends. Difficult euthanasias and experiencing the all too common problems we see in the keeping of exotic pets — poor husbandry/diet, the mistakes often made in keeping unusual pets in captivity, behavioral problems that result from wild animals confined to cages — really got to me. It all took its toll and I needed an escape and a chance to pursue other life interests. I left my first job as an associate vet and took a whole year off from practice to road trip around the US, from Florida to Alaska and back in a 1978 Volkswagen Bus. What a way to experience life! After that break, I came back down to earth and was hesitant to leap right back into another full-time job as an associate. I slowly began working relief jobs and I knew pretty quickly this was how I wanted to proceed with my career.
What are your favorite things about being a relief vet?
The flexibility of the schedule, and just being able to call the shots on when and where I work. I especially love the flexibility to be able to take on a diversity of different jobs — and when an interesting opportunity comes up that involves booking a block of time, I can just do it. In the past decade, I spent 3 months in Ecuador managing a nature reserve in the Andean cloud forest. A month working on a boat, implanting radio transmitters in sea otters in Alaska. Several blocks of work doing spay/neuter outreach to remote communities in the U.S. and abroad. In 2018, I took my second year-long “sabbatical” from practice and did yet another cross-country road trip to Alaska, along with getting married and completing a birding “big year” (check out “Birding by Bus” on Facebook/Instagram to learn more about my life outside of veterinary medicine). These life experiences are facilitated by having the schedule afforded by working as an independent contractor.
What are your least favorite things about being a relief vet?
There aren’t many negatives, but I do miss having long-term follow up on my cases and seeing them through for a longer period of time. There’s also the uncertainty with having work available and a steady income. Fortunately, I’ve been doing relief for 12 years, and the only time this has been an issue for me was the first 3 months after Covid-19 started — work opportunities really tanked. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve always been able to find relief work. And sometimes, relief jobs come to an end — but somehow, the end of one opportunity has always been the start of another for me.
How do you feel that relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?
It’s a much needed niche that supports many different disciplines within our profession. Full-time practice owners and associates need time off here and there, whatever the case may be. We help fill in the gaps and provide essential support for those times when the regular DVM staff need to be away.
What supplies or equipment do you bring with you on the job?
I keep it very basic. My smartphone has a lot of essential apps and books on it that I use on a regular basis. This includes Plumb’s, digital books on surgery and bandaging techniques, and some basic notes on drug doses. I don’t know what I’d do without my smartphone camera for snapping case photos when I need a consult, and just having internet access to look things up. I usually have my stethoscope and head lamp and … do snacks count as supplies?
What is your most memorable relief job?
A few years back I took a job implanting radio transmitters in sea otters off the coast of Southeast Alaska. We administered general anesthesia and did full open abdominal surgery…. on a rocking boat! We cleaned instruments with frigid-cold sea water. What an experience.
What advice would you give new relief vets? (Alternatively, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about being a relief vet?)
First things first — establish a good foundation of veterinary medicine with a full-time job in one practice. It’s important to understand consistency and long-term follow-up with cases and clients, and really helps you set a baseline that you can draw from once in the relief world.
How has the global pandemic affected your relief practice?
During the first 2-3 months of Covid, requests for relief work really rock-bottomed for me. That was the first time in the last 12+ years of doing relief that I didn’t have much work available. In retrospect — it wasn’t really a bad thing that I wasn’t working much those months, given the strong push to stay home and avoid contact with others. I actively sought out new facilities to work with, some of them being a little farther from home — and now my workload is pretty much back to normal.
What are your hobbies / passions outside of work?
Nature is my natural high. Whenever I have free time, you’ll find me with binoculars and camera in hand — hiking a trail, kayaking a waterway, or adventuring somewhere to explore the natural world.