Meet a Relief Vet – Dr. Vanessa Yeager

Don’t tell Illinois based relief vet Dr. Vanessa Yeager she can’t do something because she’ll prove you wrong! You’re going to love meeting November’s featured relief vet and reading about her diverse background and tips and tricks for success in relief practice. So let’s raise a frosty mug and toast our amazing beer brewing colleague. Read on to learn more.

What inspired you to become a veterinarian?

I always had an ongoing curiosity for science as a young adult and a summer job working at a veterinary hospital pushed me towards entertaining veterinary science as a potential career. I shadowed a lot of different veterinarians before making the decision and long story short, I liked the breadth and depth of the profession and the variety of roles you can have as a DVM. Also, after being told by my college chemistry teacher that I wasn’t smart enough for veterinary school, that lit a fire under my bum and made me even more interested in doing it. Funny how that works. 🙂

What roles have you had within the veterinary profession? How about outside of this industry?

I have had a lot of different jobs! I worked at a small animal hospital for a few summers in high school. During college I was a sales associate at a clothing store and had a small dog walking business on the side (for book money of course). After taking an animal behavior class in college, I thought it might be fun to think about dolphin training as a potential career path. For two summers in college I worked with seals, sea otters, and bottlenose dolphins at the Minnesota Zoo and the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys. During my summers in veterinary school, I worked as a farm hand on a swine operation and at the local health department working on vector borne disease control – mainly West Nile Virus.  In the veterinary profession, I have held veterinarian roles in shelter medicine, emergency medicine, primary care, end of life/hospice house calls, telehealth, teaching, and local government. 

What made you switch to relief practice?

I decided to enter into relief work to help me find balance between work and life. Work is part of life, but shouldn’t consume it. 

What are your favorite things about being a relief vet?

I love the flexibility and autonomy it provides. I enjoy meeting and learning about other people and seeing how different clinics operate. It allows me to have a comprehensive and global view of veterinary medicine. Ultimately all of these varying experiences have allowed me to increase my knowledge base, problem solving skills, and become a well adjusted veterinarian.

What are your least favorite things about being a relief vet?

Dealing with the business side of relief work such as taxes, contracts, and scheduling can be a little time consuming.  If for some reason I am unable to work due to family emergency or illness, I am without a paycheck for that time, which can be stressful. 

How do you feel relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?

Relief vets are truly in a unique position. We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think we have seen what works, what hasn’t worked, and why. It is like we are little data miners out there collecting all sorts of information about business models, drugs and medicines, scheduling software, equipment, technology, and more! All of this knowledge not only helps us become better clinicians but provides positive feedback to the clinics we travel to. They can learn from us and we can learn from them and this ultimately betters the profession. 

What supplies or equipment do you bring with you on the job?

I carry my stethoscope, a pen light, extra pairs of scrubs and shoes (for all those unforeseeable spills, squirts, or spews) +/-  my white coat if the clinic is more on the formal side. A positive attitude is also a must. No one wants to hire a grump relief vet. 

What do you look for in a practice when deciding to cover shifts for them?

Before agreeing to dates for a clinic, I will do a ‘meet and greet’ in person. This way I get a sense of how the clinic operates, what their goals and values are, get a feeling for the staff, and if it seems like a good fit. I usually ask myself:  Is the clinic clean? Do they follow current CDC/AVMA recommendations for covid-19? Are the staff supportive and friendly? Does their workload expectation fit with what I can realistically provide?

Have you picked up any unique practice tips while being a relief vet? These could be related medicine, workflow, practice organization, or anything really.

The big tip I have learned has been increasing transparency between vet staff and clients. The more transparent you can be, the better. I think this helps create realistic expectations and helps with client/staff communication. One clinic I worked with sends clients home with the entire doctor visit record after the appointment plus my notes for recommendations/next steps so nothing was lost in translation. I have continued giving clients a short summary of recommendations after each visit to help maintain this transparency. I think people really appreciate this. 

What is your most memorable relief job?

I have a lot of good memories of working relief. My first relief job was working in a hospital that had a great team environment and I got along very well with the staff and clients. Everything synced and it felt great to be a part of that. I feel the best, however, when I help out clinics that are really in need for any help at all or are in underserved areas. These are the clinics I enjoy helping the most because I feel like I am bringing a lot to their table and making a difference for them and their clients. 

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 your personality fits relief work. Relief vets need to be open minded, positive forward thinkers, conscientious, and problem solvers as you will be in a variety of situations with a variety of different people. I would recommend finding and working with an accountant you jive with and obtain disability insurance as well as worker’s compensation insurance for the unpredictable events. Providing each clinic some form of a contract for liability purposes is a solid move. 

How has the global pandemic affected your relief practice?

I’ll be honest, it has been a rocky one. Ever since late March 2020, work has been unpredictable. I was unemployed for the entire month of April when hospitals diverted to essential/emergency service only and their relief needs pittered out.   Luckily I was able to get PPP funding for my business which helped keep my family afloat during that time. Once the lockdowns lifted a bit, I was able to work more and finances stabilized. As a result of the ongoing health concerns however, I  have limited where I go and am very strict with following CDC guidelines and AVMA current recommendations. Although I am currently working less hours than I have been historically, I am actually loving that. More time for things that bring my life joy. 

What are your hobbies / passions outside of work?

I am a big runner, love going on walks with my husband, and watching our border terriers defend our backyard from the ‘villainous’ chipmunks. I am a voracious reader of nonfiction and I enjoy brewing beer from home. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Never give up. 

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To learn more about or contact Dr. Yeager, check our her Relief Rover Resume here.

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