Are relief veterinarians the future of vet medicine?
Since lockdown, 20% of veterinary professionals in North America, and 26% of professionals in Western Europe are reportedly looking to reduce their hours or turn to work relief work entirely.
Though this trend existed before lockdown, it has (like many things) been accelerated by the pandemic.
But why has relief work become so appealing for vets? And what are some of the pros and cons of going into this line of work?
What Do Relief Veterinarians Do?
Relief vets (or locum workers as they are known in the UK) are people who temporarily fill veterinary roles on a freelance basis.
These vets are commonly used when people are sick, on holiday, on maternity leave or when there are schedule gaps as one vet leaves, and another vet joins a practice.
Relief work can be an exciting and viable career option for veterinarians looking to switch up their routines.
It is in high demand at the moment, as many practices and hospitals are looking for relief workers to help ease staff shortages brought on by the pandemic.
Why Has Relief Work Become So Appealing
The main attraction is that it allows for a bit more flexibility in one’s schedule. This is something that many veterinary professionals crave in practice life, which instead tends to be more of an oxymoronic regimental chaotic mix !
Relief work can also offer plenty of variety, as you get to work in many different practice types and locations.
It also exposes professionals to several different people and clients, which can be stimulating. A bonus is that relief vets often can avoid the dreaded ‘work drama’, as they are not around enough to get involved.
This type of work is also incredibly popular for those who enjoy traveling. Vets who want to spend a month or so abroad can either schedule time off or look for work overseas (although this is subject to veterinary practice requirements in each country).
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, you may also be able to earn a nice bit of cash as a relief vet.
Relief vets tend to earn more than other vets because they don’t get compensation of employees (CE) allowances, sick pay, or paid vacation time. There is also a lot of demand for relief vets at present, so their rates tend to be higher.
The mean pay rate for relief vets has risen since 2018 by 13.5% (at least, in the UK it has), from $364 per day to around $413 a day- a large incentive for many .
The Drawbacks Of Relief Work
For all the benefits, relief work certainly isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Firstly, because by definition relief veterinarians are covering schedule gaps, there is little support available. Relief vets are expected to be able to hold their own and slot into a team.
Secondly, relief veterinarians don’t receive any regular employee benefits like sick or holiday pay. Although they are (as mentioned earlier) compensated for this in terms of an increased comparative hourly rate, it is a considerable drawback. Especially if you are working while pregnant, or you are unable to work for another reason.
A lack of meaningful client relationships might not feel like a big loss for some vets, but given the joy of helping others, it should not be discounted.
And on this subject, there’s also the relationship with the new team each time you enter a clinic. A new culture to work out and a new set of unwritten rules to follow.
Until a bond of trust emerges, you might find yourself handling all the low-risk/skill cases while other team members soak up all the juicy cases!
Job security can also be very shaky- as many found out during the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Booked jobs can change or disappear at short notice. If a practice finds someone who can work full-time, relief veterinarians can lose a lot of shifts all at once.
There are also going to be new demands on your time and money as you set up your new business. Alien things like book-keeping, invoicing, collecting payments, and marketing are going to need time and attention.
You’ll also need an accountant, as you’ll be playing by different tax rules, something you’ll need to understand and comply with or risk hefty penalties.
For more advice on relief work, check out this episode of the Vet Career Success Show.
Essential Skills For Relief Vets
Because clinics are relying on you to show up and be present, being reliable is paramount.
Tardiness or flakiness will be to the detriment of your reputation, which may impede how much repeat or even new work you get.
Record-keeping skills are also very important. Relief veterinarians are expected to keep thorough notes so that the next clinician can pick up where they left off.
Relief veterinarians also need to be flexible.
While this line of work is great for those who want more control of their hours, relief work can be unpredictable and the enemy for those who enjoy routine.
You are also going to have to be adaptable to the various standards of care deployed in the different clinics you visit.
Good core clinical skills are essential and expected- particularly if you are charging top dollar for your service. If you show up and cannot neuter a bitch effectively, then you’re not going to be popular.
Good communication skills are also vital as you are going to have to be a behavioral chameleon to fit into new practices. Plus, you’ll be working twice as hard to build trust, since many of your encounters will be first impressions. And we all know how important those are.
How To Get Into Relief Work
Veterinary professionals considering going into relief work may find it difficult to know where to begin.
So what are their options?
Many choose to find work through agencies.
This can take a lot of hassle out of the process, as they do most of the legwork for you.
All you have to do is tell them what you are looking for, and they’ll go away and sort that out. But be warned, there are fees and tax rules which may cause issues with this route.
Contact Practices Directly
To contact clinics directly, write an introductory letter and send it alongside a resume to your workplace of choice. Then follow up a couple of days later (if you don’t hear back) by calling.
Even if the practice doesn’t need your services at that time, speaking to you directly means they are more likely to use your services if something crops up.
Many practices like to have 3-4 regular locums they build a relationship with to maintain service throughout the year- so it’s always good to get a foot in the door.
Utilize Social Media
You can also use social media to find roles. There are many groups on Facebook and Linkedin which advertise work.
–Relief Rover Facebook Group
–Veterinary Employment and Locum Network UK– the largest general veterinary employment group
–Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify are a great community, and their employment group advertises alternative roles to general practice, as well as vet and RVN vacancies.
–Scottish Veterinary Jobs Alert, (very handy if you live in Scotland).
There’s no single best way to go about finding relief work. But that’s the beauty of it- it’s a very customizable lifestyle. Try out a little bit of everything and see what sticks.
The Lowdown On Relief Work
So there you have it, a summary of what relief work is, why so many people love it (or hate it) and how you can get into it.
Like any job, relief work isn’t perfect. But it certainly is an exciting avenue for vets wanting to explore more flexible work.
1- ‘The 2019 survey of the veterinary profession.’ https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/publications/the-2019-survey-of-the-veterinary-profession/. Accessed 8 Sept. 2021.
2- ‘Locum salary survey for vets and vet nurses – Recruit4Vets.’ 28 Jan. 2020, https://www.recruit4vets.co.uk/blog/2020/01/locum-salary-survey-for-vets-and-vet-nurses. Accessed 10 Sept. 2021.