Over the last few years, relief work in veterinary medicine has taken off.
As a society, we’ve grown more accustomed to having our options open.
We can stream our favorite shows whenever we want without waiting for them to be on the cable channels.
We can order food from hundreds of restaurants from the comfort of our couch.
So, it’s no surprise veterinary professionals also want that flexibility in their work life.
In 2022, VIN surveyed 2,219 veterinary professionals, asking if they would consider relief work.
- 7% said that they shifted to relief or were in the process of shifting
- 14% said they seriously considered going from full- or part-time work to locum work
- 31% said they daydreamed about making such a change
But, if you’ve never worked with relief professionals before, it can feel daunting!
This guide outlines all the ins and outs of hiring and working with relief professionals so you can feel confident going into that new working relationship.
6 Benefits of Hiring Relief Professionals
1. Giving your teams quality PTO
The mental and physical health of staff is a practice’s most important asset. As we all know, the job of veterinarians and support staff can be stressful, intense, and require long hours. Regular breaks from this type of job are essential for long-term productivity and career satisfaction.
Hiring veterinary relief professionals to mind the practice while veterinarians or technicians take…
- a hard-earned vacation
- time for continuing education
- a personal day
- a sick day
- adequate maternity/paternity leave
- a sabbatical
…is a wise investment for the health and wellbeing of the business.
Some multi-doctor practices will have their associates pick up extra days to cover the caseload of the absent doctor in addition to their own. This coverage strategy creates a cycle of burnout and resentment as associates feel overworked or guilty for taking time off.
Patient care and client satisfaction also suffer as vets and staff try to cram more patients into the schedules of fewer doctors and technicians.
Relief professionals are well worth the cost as they help maintain workflow to keep clients happy, pets cared for, and staff sane.
2. Coverage during unexpected absences
Life happens. Someone has a sick kid, a death in the family, someone quits…
Having a pool of local relief professionals with whom you are familiar can be very helpful if you have unexpected absences and need to fill shifts quickly.
3. Extra hands during busy times
Some parts of the country experience seasonal upticks in business but don’t have enough caseload to support a year-round associate or extra technician.
Maybe you’re a coastal area with an influx of tourists and traffic in the summer months, or maybe you’re a ski town with an influx in the winter months.
Relief professionals are perfect for this situation since you don’t have the commitment and associated costs of a full-time employee.
Some relief professionals are willing to travel or live part-time in different parts of the country in pursuit of lifestyle and seasonal work, so your relief veterinarian or technician choices may not be limited to a local pool!
4. Help while looking for a new associate veterinarian or licensed technician
Some veterinarians and technicians work relief as a specific career choice. For others, relief work is a means to test out the cultures of various practices to find one that fits their style and career aspirations.
These relief professionals may or may not be forthcoming about their intentions since they want to see the clinic in its day-to-day behavior and not just when it’s actively recruiting. If you are looking for an associate or a credentialed technician, you may want to “foster” a relief professional to see if there is an opportunity for a “forever” home.
Alternatively, relief professionals can provide coverage so you can take your time finding the perfect new addition for your practice.
5. Preparation for growth
If your clinic is experiencing steady growth, you may not be sure if your practice is ready to support another full-time veterinarian or credentialed technician.
Why not hire a relief vet or tech for a few months to test the waters? That way, you can easily discover any staff needs or workflow modifications required to accommodate another vet or tech.
6. Fresh ideas & an unbiased opinion
Relief vets and techs are conduits of knowledge exchange like bees picking up pollen on one flower and bringing it to another. Working across multiple practices of varying sizes and styles, relief professionals pick up a range of case management, approaches, treatment tips, communication strategies, storage ideas, organizational techniques, and more.
This information is absorbed, passed along, adopted, or repurposed to benefit other clinics. Our practices benefit from sharing the collective knowledge stored in the community of veterinarians, technicians, assistants, and receptionists they employ.
Some examples may be:
- the myriad of ways to treat an ear hematoma
- efficient ways of staining tape prep cytologies
- methods for storing ET tubes
- ideas to make euthanasias smoother and more pleasant
…the list goes on and on.
How to Hire Relief Professionals
So now that we’ve convinced you of the value of relief professionals, how do you go about hiring them?
Plan ahead (when you’re able)
Interview relief professionals before you need them, and interview them with a long-term relationship in mind.
A smart relief professional will see your practice as a valuable source of repetitive income and will be dedicated to enhancing your reputation and revenue.
Find your relief professionals and hire them for a few trial shifts before you truly need them. That way, you'll know exactly who to hire when you need emergency coverage for maternity leaves, sick leaves, vacations, and time periods between hires.
Work with relief companies
Recently, different companies in vet med have emerged helping relief workers and relief employers find each other.
Generally, these companies use two different models:
The staffing agency approach
For some of these companies, you’re essentially hiring them to supply you with relief professionals. They “employ” these individuals, and you pay the company to use the relief vets and techs in their ecosystem.
- relief staff may be insured through the staffing agency
- payments are made directly to the staffing agency
- in some cases, relief staff have been vetted for medical and communication skills
- the hourly or daily rate can be more expensive due to staffing agency fees
- you may not have a choice about which relief worker serves your practice
- if you and the relief worker decide you want to enter into an employee/employer relationship, there is often a buy-out fee
The matchmaker approach
Other companies simply match relief professionals and employers via something closer to a job board. These relief professionals work for themselves, and you can build a relationship with them off-platform.
- opportunity to find relief workers that you vet yourself to make sure they fit with your practice
- the relationship with the relief worker is owned by you, not a third party so if you decide to form an employee/employer arrangement with a relief pro, there is no buy-out fee.
- opportunity to negotiate rates
- time to post jobs
- time to interview candidates
- pay subscription fee whether or not you find relief worker
Write irresistible job posts
Regardless of how you’re finding the relief professionals, you’ll need to convince them that you’re a great fit and an attractive opportunity.
Make your job title pop
It’s simple to write a job title that says, “Relief Vet Needed” or “Seeking PT/FT Veterinarian.”
Frankly, it’s what most do. But put yourself in the shoes of a relief professional scrolling through dozens of these types of posts. Your eyes might just start to glaze over.
Want to stand out?
Try adding 1-3 features that will be interesting to candidates, like:
- “great vet:tech ratio”
- “we get you home on time”
- “we treat our relief vets like part of the team”
I’d definitely click on something that said that.
Be flexible about dates
If allowed in the relief platform, check the box for flexible dates.
This will help prevent relief professionals from looking at the posting, seeing their calendars don’t fit, and then dismissing the job.
This can lead to a missed opportunity to form a relationship with a relief vet or tech who may be a great resource in the future.
Share detailed expectations
Describe what the job requires and let relief professionals know how much flexibility you have.
If you require a relief veterinarian who will see consultations and perform surgery and/or dentistry, be descriptive about that. However, if you are flexible and willing to consider a relief vet who does consultations only, mention that as well.
This is also a great place to let candidates know about your friendly, skilled support staff who can guide them with workflow, producing estimates, and navigating practice management software.
Play up your destination
If your practice is in a destination location and/or if you need longer-term coverage for maternity/paternity leave, vacations, or sabbaticals, consider that relief professionals have all sorts of reasons for wanting to travel for work.
Some travel for adventure and lifestyle, and some may have family or friends in various parts of the country, and relief work can support an extended visit.
Feature the cultural or natural treasures of your location and let them know if you can offer access to housing or any coverage of travel expenses.
Focus on what makes you special
When writing a company description, let candidates know what makes your hospital special.
- How long have you been in business?
- Are your facilities new?
- Do your founders have a special story?
- Do you have a great culture? If so, explain why you have a great culture.
- Do you have a skilled, experienced, cohesive team? Are they welcoming to relief vets?
- Describe your efficient workflows, the tools you have in your practice (digital dental radiology, ultrasound, etc.), and/or your employee wellness philosophy.
- How does your company think about diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Each practice has a personality, and you should feature all the great parts of yours.
3 Ways to Utilize Relief Professionals (other than just coverage!)
1. Add new products and services
As you build relationships with your relief professionals, learn their areas of expertise. The smartest practice owners find ways to leverage their employees’ strengths.
Is there a vet who's slower but always makes more daily revenue than your other vets? Never double-book them.
What special skills do your vets and techs have? Are they experienced in behavior, nutrition, rehabilitation, or ultrasound? Have a discussion on how to turn their talents into added benefits for your clients and added revenue for your practice.
Additionally, before you invest time and money test-driving a new product, hire a relief professional to research it for you. Relief professionals already know a lot about various products and services since they're constantly adapting to new practices. They can give you a practitioner’s perspective and provide a summarized review of your options.
2. Start offering house calls or telehealth
We live in the age of Amazon Prime, and everyone loves the instant gratification of easy delivery. You may not have the time or staff to add house calls, and that's where one of your trusted relief vets or techs can step in. (This service, of course, will depend on where you are geographically located and if it is considered safe.)
Don’t have a telehealth option or the time to figure it out? Hire relief professionals you trust to represent your practice online. This gives your clients white glove service from vets and techs who can professionally represent your practice — not just random vets or techs who may be answering client questions on a teletriage call.
This will increase client satisfaction, client retention, and revenue. It will also decrease the need for referrals. Win-win-win...win.
3. Update your practice and protocols
Relief professionals inevitably start creating the perfect practice in their minds: a collage of the best workflow, the best management system, the highest staff proficiency, and the most efficient hospital layout. We see the same bottlenecks over and over.
We also get the thrill of experiencing some elegant practice solutions. It's a wealth of knowledge that can be at your disposal before you invest in expensive, time-consuming developments.
10 Considerations for Relief Professional Fees
So, now that you know how and why to hire relief professionals, you’ll need to pay them.
If you’re going the route of hiring relief professionals directly, it’s important to remember that since you’re not paying a lot of items you would for a W2 employee, these individuals will almost certainly have higher rates per hour than you’re currently paying your staff.
With that in mind, here are 10 things to keep in mind when negotiating and determining your ideal rate.
1. Geography & Travel
Relief veterinary service fees will vary by geography. After all, the cost of a plumber will likely be higher in San Francisco, California, than in Belzoni, Mississippi. And, if you’re hiring someone who isn’t local, a relief professional may charge more to account for travel time to your hospital.
2. Services Offered
Some relief professionals will only provide consultations, while others will perform surgeries, ultrasound, dentistry, or other specialized services. Additional skills and value can come with additional charges.
3. Shift Differentials
Relief professionals may charge additional fees for holidays, emergency calls, overnight shifts, or overtime. (This goes back to our “plan ahead” advice above).
4. Level of Experience
Relief veterinarians or technicians with a lot of experience may have higher rates than newer graduates. Remember: you get what you pay for!
Independent contractors must cover their own professional liability, health, disability, and possibly workers’ compensation insurance coverage, and they’ll include that in their fee.
Relief professionals must pay for their own professional licensing, which sometimes includes multi-state and/or DEA fees. Depending on one’s locality, separate business licenses may also be required.
7. Professional Memberships
Many relief professionals support and stay connected to the profession through associations such as the AVMA, state VMAs, RVMA (Relief Veterinary Medical Association), and other organizations like AAFP or IVECCS.
To meet licensing criteria and stay current with medicine so they can provide excellent care to your patients, relief professionals must budget change our to their continuing education costs. And, speaking of education, don’t forget to factor in those pesky student loan repayments.
9. Professional Services
As all business owners know, professionals need professionals, and relief vets and techs must pay for legal and accounting services as well.
10. Maintenance Expenses
Then there are all of the maintenance expenses of running a business, including professional clothing and equipment (scrubs, coats, stethoscopes, etc.), internet and phone bills, office expenses, car maintenance and gas, and self-employment taxes.
Let’s find you some relief professionals!
Ready to start recruiting relief professionals and building better relief relationships?
Book a demo with our team to get a sneak peek into Relief Rover 2.0 launching in early April!