The Ultimate Guide to Being an Awesome Veterinary Relief Professional

Cindy Trice, DVM
Chief Veterinary Officer @ hound
Founder @ Relief Rover
~10 min read

Over the last few years, relief work has exploded in vet med — with good reason. 

Wage transparency and work flexibility are two of the driving factors for the shift many veterinary professionals have been making. 

But, if you’ve never done relief before, it can be daunting to get started.

So, we’ve broken down all the essential pieces to help you start your relief journey!

7 Characteristics of an Awesome Veterinary Relief Professional

Over our years of working in relief, we’ve found that there are 7 characteristics that determine whether you’ll sink or swim as a relief professional. 

Before you dive into the deep end, here are some considerations…

1. Flexibility

Honestly, this characteristic is likely what will draw you to relief work — the flexibility of working where, when, and how you want. 

And, this flexibility must be an innate part of you as a relief vet. Not only will your schedule and work differ, but so will the practices that you work in. 

Availability of products, diagnostics, and staff proficiency will vary widely. Some clinic cultures are fast-paced and hectic, others are relaxed. Some clinics will have highly skilled staff and some won’t, requiring you to engage your technical expertise. 

Adaptability will be your best friend. 

Dressing to conform to a clinic’s standards helps as well. If it's a scrub clinic, wear scrubs. If it's a lab coat clinic, wear one. If it’s a street clothes clinic, dress professionally but appropriately for a day of work that will likely involve crawling around on the floor. No matter what you wear, use a name tag or scrubs and lab coats with your name embroidered. This helps staff and clients in case they can’t remember your name.

2. Confidence & Humility

Confidence is required, since you may be the only doctor or credentialed technician on staff and will need to rely on your own analysis of cases. In addition, you will be called upon to lead groups of people that you may not know very well. 

On the flip side, have the humility to recognize and admit to staff and clients when you don’t know the answer. Don’t be afraid to research, call a colleague, consult with a specialist, or ask the support staff how their clinic typically handles different types of cases. Listen to technicians and assistants, as they are a wealth of information. 

3. Meticulous Record Keeping

This will help the vets who take over the case when you are gone. Remember that sometimes the vets that come next in the process are other relief professionals and are picking things up from scratch just like you were. 

Don’t just record what happened, but express your recommended plan for further diagnostics and treatment options moving forward. Discern pet owner’s goals and include them in the record as well. 

This type of record-keeping will provide a roadmap for others, increase client confidence in the practice, and make workflow smoother and more efficient for the entire medical team.

4. Reliability

Once you’ve booked a job, only the most serious of situations should make you back out or not show up. 

This is how a relief work schedule can actually be more rigid than that of a full-time employee. As an employee, you may be able to take a personal, sick, or vacation day with relatively short notice. 

This is not so as a veterinary relief professional. You must be dependable to maintain your reputation and the respectability of relief professionals as a whole.

5. Willingness to Help

There will be times as a relief professional when your primary responsibilities are complete and you are waiting for the next case. Sometimes the appointment book will be light and you may find yourself with a lot of free time. 

While it is perfectly valid to use this time to read up on journals, record or prepare your invoices, you may also use the time to make yourself useful to the practice as a whole.

Ask the veterinarians if they have any callbacks that you can handle. 

If you see technicians that need assistance, then help them. 

If you see laundry that needs folding, then fold it. 

These tasks are certainly not your job and will never be expected of you, but small acts of helpfulness will go a long way to ingratiating yourself to a clinic and make you feel good as well.

6. Curiosity & an Open Mind

Observe, listen, and remain open to suggestion, overt or implied. 

In the words of our favorite football coach: be curious, not judgmental.

You’ll learn new sedation protocols, a million ways to treat ear hematomas, how to use that new product you’ve seen advertised but have never used, novel and effective ways to communicate with clients and staff, along with many other useful things.

Your role in the practice is to bridge a gap they need filled. While you can offer suggestions and ideas, you must also learn their processes and fit into their practice structure. 

7. Excellent Communication Skills

When it comes to relief work, it’s essential to be a smooth and efficient communicator.

With the practice teams, you must be very clear so they can work well together. Sometimes staff may be afraid to admit they don’t completely understand what you need and since you may not know their knowledge base it is best always to err on the side of complete clarity. 

Additionally, how well you are liked by the staff is often the determining factor in whether or not you get asked back. Your mood will dictate the entire vibe of the clinic for that day — so set a quality precedent.

With the clients, it is extra important that you are approachable and kind. This is their first impression with you and you are a representative of the clinic. 

Use their primary vet’s name when you are communicating about their pet's medical history. 

For instance, “I see that Dr. Smith treated Fluffy for diarrhea last month. Has that problem been resolved?” Or, “I see we are following up with the anemia that Dr. Smith diagnosed last week.” 

This gives the impression of familiarity and collaboration and puts the client’s mind at ease with seeing an unknown vet. 

It’s also helpful to develop the art of gleaning a relevant history from the client in the absence of legible or complete medical records. 

Sometimes you will be required to read between the lines, ask questions of the client, and make deductions without ever saying to them that you don’t know because it’s not in the medical record. 

This will increase the client's faith in the practice and therefore, the practice's faith in you.

5 Steps to Getting Started as a Relief Professional

1. How will you establish your business?

A common question is whether your relief business should be set up as a sole proprietorship, LLC, PLLC, or S- Corporation. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Since we’re not lawyers or accountants, we can’t tell you which to choose. 

The choice depends on your specific financial situation, risk tolerance, and state regulations. 

Sole proprietorships

Sole proprietorship is the simplest and cheapest way to set up a relief business. You can open and operate a sole proprietorship without any formal organizing procedures or paperwork and their associated costs. You also don’t have to be so concerned with keeping personal money and business money separated. 

LLCs and PLLCs

Setting up an LLC helps to protect your assets (the owners of an LLC are not personally liable for company debts, whereas a sole proprietor is liable). 

A PLLC (professional limited liability company) is required in some states but functions the same as an LLC. 


Sometimes choosing an S- Corporation is best for tax savings purposes, depending on your household income and other factors. These are things that should be discussed with your CPA.

2. Where will you work?

Practice types

With the flexibility afforded by relief work, you have the option to work at a variety of different practices. Some of the main options include:

  • daytime general practice
  • night or day emergency clinics
  • vaccine clinics
  • Shelters
  • Telehealth

If you have special skills like surgery, dentistry, or ultrasound, you may consider creating a special niche for yourself to handle those types of cases at various clinics. 


Decide how far you are willing to travel. You may only want to work in your town or are willing to drive 2 hours or more for a job. 

You may consider becoming licensed and working in multiple states as a way to experience another part of the country or spend extended time with geographically dispersed friends or family. 

Once you have decided on your sectors of practice and the area you are willing to cover, research appropriate clinics in your area, and make a list

3. Are you properly licensed?

Licensing in multiple states

One of the many reasons people become relief professionals is so they can use their skills to take a “paycation.” 

Carrying licenses in multiple states means you can temporarily live somewhere, work, and soak in the local lifestyle. 

This may or may not be practical or appealing depending on your life and financial circumstances, but it certainly can be a fun way to explore other parts of the country or even the world. 

Some states are more difficult than others to obtain licensing in. And, for technicians, the states may or may not require a license. Go to the individual state’s professional licensing website, find out what the requirements are, and decide if it’s worth pursuing.

Also, don’t forget that some practices may be willing to pay for, or at least support, housing and even pay for licensing fees.

DEA license (for veterinarians specifically)

Ideally, every relief veterinarian, specifically, will have their own DEA license and you absolutely have to have it if you are prescribing controlled substances. 

In some cases, if you are directing the administration of controlled substances to patients in the clinic or are dispensing them directly from the clinic, you can do this under that clinic’s DEA license. If you work in multiple states, you need a DEA license for each state. 

You can possibly change the address associated with your DEA license if you are working in another state for a longer-term job. It is best to check the National Drug Enforcement Agency ( if you have any specific questions, as requirements may vary by state.

Check out our licensing requirements by state to get a quick overview.

4. Are you insured properly?

The main insurance categories that you should consider as a relief vet are liability, disability, health, and potentially business property insurance.

Liability insurance

Liability insurance is important for any veterinary professional, but there are some slightly increased risks for a relief professional. You will likely not have established relationships with the clients, and if outcomes are not as expected, there is potential for blaming the relatively unknown vet or tech. In addition, you do not have any control over the maintenance and quality of a practice’s medical equipment like anesthesia machines, infusion pumps, diagnostic equipment, and monitoring devices.

You also may not know the skill level and animal handling capabilities of the staff. However, you are responsible for the patients that are under your care while working at that clinic, so it is important that you are protected against potential claims made against you and your license.

Disability insurance

Life is unpredictable. Even though you may not be able to envision a scenario where you won’t be able to work, it can happen. It is best to be prepared with disability insurance. The younger and healthier you are when you sign up, the better your plan will be. You can lock in lower premiums and higher benefits if you plan on this early.

Health insurance

Health insurance options are bewildering these days, but it's important to sort them out so you can protect yourself and your family from serious financial distress. There are insurance advisors who specialize in veterinary professionals who can help you through the often confusing terms & options.

Business property insurance

You may or may not need business property insurance depending on what you carry with you. 

Consider this type of insurance if you have invested in equipment like a portable ultrasound machine, endoscope, or other costly piece of equipment.

5. How are your contracts structured?

A contract can help protect you in a variety of ways. 

The most common contract details explain fees and cancellation policies. Your contract can also clearly outline the services you provide and the species you treat. 

As with all contracts, it's always best to have a lawyer review it (though many relief vets skip this step). The practice should sign and return your contract.

Important note: avoid making your contract too lengthy or restrictive. The more stipulations you have, the less flexible you seem, and that may "scare off" a practice. Additionally, corporate practices will likely have their own contracts and may hesitate to sign yours.

Dates and fee schedules: 

Be specific about agreed-upon dates and your rate. 

Will you be charging hourly? Per shift? 

What about overtime? 

Is your rate different for appointments only vs. a mix of surgery and appointments?

Services you offer: 

For example, appointments only, surgery (list all procedures you perform), routine dentistry, extractions, ultrasound services, endoscopy, etc.


Will practices be charged if certain dates are canceled? 

For example, your policy might be that shifts canceled within a month's notice do not incur a fee, shifts canceled within 2 weeks incur a 50% fee, and that shifts canceled within a week incur a full fee.

Specific policies: 

Your contract is also a great place to list particular policies. 

(Of course, you should always discuss these with the practice beforehand, so there are no surprises.) 

For example, you may specify that you only perform euthanasia under certain circumstances or that surgeries must be booked with your approval.

How to Determine Your Rate

Unlike your work as a W-2 employee, you’ll now be in charge of your own expenses and insurance, as we mentioned above. This means your rate will almost always be more than what you would be making as an hourly employee. So, how do you determine that rate?

The way most relief professionals sort out how to charge for their services is by finding out what the going rate is in their area

This is certainly a quick and easy way to sort out your fees and to make sure that you aren’t over or undercharging. However, this may be difficult to find out if you don’t know other relief professionals to ask. 

Below, we lay out a more formulaic approach

You can also use our Relief Wage Calculator to go through this same process!

First, list your veterinary costs…

These costs can include:

  1. State licensing fee(s) per year
  2. DEA license fee per year
  3. Education loan repayments
  4. Association dues
  5. Liability insurance
  6. Disability insurance
  7. Business equipment insurance (if necessary)
  8. Memberships (VIN, Plumb’s, VetGirl, etc.)
  9. Continuing Education costs
  10. Equipment (stethoscope, scrubs, etc.)

Next, figure out your life expenses…

These costs can include:

  1. Rent or mortgage 
  2. Health insurance
  3. Renter’s or homeowners insurance
  4. HOA fees (if applicable)
  5. Property taxes
  6. Other home costs (utilities, internet, etc.) 
  7. Child care
  8. Pet care and insurance
  9. Car payment and repair
  10. Groceries
  11. Clothes and entertainment 
  12. Travel budget
  13. Disposable income

Then, decide how much you want to work…

In other words, do you want to bring 2 or 4 weeks of vacation into your life?

Do you only want to work 3 or 4 days a week?

What do you need or want your income to be based on the above information? 

Are you a single or dual-income household? 

Don’t forget to consider if you have any special skills that you plan to offer, like expertise in ultrasound, surgery, or dentistry―these skills carry a premium and are not offered by all relief professionals, so charge accordingly.

Other helpful considerations:

Business debts

The majority of relief professionals don’t have many business debts since the equipment and marketing materials they acquire are relatively inexpensive and paid in full upon purchase. 

Unless you are investing in expensive equipment like an ultrasound machine or endoscope, you likely won’t have creditors that can come after your personal assets if they are not paid. 

If you have any questions, please consult with a business lawyer. 


You’ll also need to set up an accounting system. We recommend setting up a separate bank account for your business, although if you are a sole proprietorship, this is not legally required. 

You can keep track of your income and expenses the old-fashioned way by manually balancing your checkbook, or you can use one of the available online self-employed bookkeeping systems. 


Okay, I just heard the scream coming from your house. But it's all okay! 

If you are acting as an independent contractor, then you should receive a 1099 tax form from each clinic. 

If you are acting as a relief employee, then you should receive a W-2 tax form from each clinic where you worked. 

It is best to talk to a CPA about self-employment taxes, appropriate write-offs, and the benefits of being a relief “employee” vs. an independent contractor vs. both. 

Everyone’s financial situation and advice may be different depending on one’s circumstances.

Want an easy way to calculate all of this? Use our Relief Professional Wage Calculator

How to Find Veterinary Relief Shifts

Use a relief work service! 

For many new relief professionals, this is the path of least resistance. 

These employers have already raised their hand, saying they need relief professionals, and you’re able to find and secure those opportunities quickly!

With Relief Rover, you have access to hundreds of exclusive job listings, with filtering to find your perfect match. The best part is that you get to build that relationship with these practices without a middleman. There’s no penalty or fee for building a relationship with and booking shifts with a hospital off the platform.

Attend in-person events & network

Attend local veterinary medical association meetings regularly to introduce yourself to unfamiliar colleagues. Maintain relationships with vets and employers you know. Additionally, attend national and local conferences and share that you are a relief professional!

Be sure to bring business cards or easy ways for them to contact you when the need arises.

Use the power of the internet

Stay active on LinkedIn and list yourself as a relief vet with your state board.

Additionally, search all the clinics in your desired sector and travel distance, then set up appointments to introduce yourself to the practice owners and/or managers.

Let’s get to work!

We hope you feel more confident starting your relief journey after going through this guide! 

Still want some extra tips (and get some CE while you’re at it?) Check out our full CE library with plenty of relief professional tips!

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