The multi-faceted benefits of relief veterinarians


All there is to know about being a relief veterinarian, plus the advantages it presents for all those in the veterinary profession.

Orawan /

Orawan /

As households within the United States continuously grow with pets, clinics are sprouting up to try and meet the surging demand for veterinary services. Ergo, according to Charles McMillan, DVM, the emerging need for relief veterinary medicine has never been louder.

During his lecture at the 2021 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference (ACVC), McMillan highlighted the fundamentals of being a relief veterinarian, its multi-faceted advantages within the industry, how to maximize the use of these professionals, and more.

What is a relief veterinarian?

McMillan defined a relief veterinarian as "a [relief veterinarian] is a non-permanent member of your hospital staff; they work as independent contractors for your relief/staffing agency." These professionals typically determine their own schedules and set their rates based on geographical location, shift type, shift length, distance traveled, and the time of the day of the shift. Additionally, relief workers are often responsible for required licenses and insurance fees.

The various types of relief work include working for a relief company, working for a hospital group, or operating as an independent relief veterinarian.

Disadvantages of relief work

McMillan also addressed some disadvantages of being a relief worker:

  • Less stability
  • Minimum hour requirements for benefits (inapplicable to independent relief veterinarians)
  • Having a supervisor/manager (inapplicable to independent relief veterinarians)
  • Highly dependent on shift availability
  • Inability to develop client relationships

Advantages of relief work

McMillan identified some of the general advantages of working as a relief veterinarian that tend to remain valid regardless of the type of relief work pursued:

  • Control over work schedule: He explained the main attraction of being a relief veterinarian is having autonomy, adding, "You can have your working schedule work around your life and not the other way around."
  • Variety of environments: You can choose a robust mix of environments or decide to narrow them down. For example, if you find a group of hospitals you like, you can keep returning to them as long as a demand exists.
  • Control over vacation time: This feature is something full-time associates often don't get the pleasure of experiencing.
  • Opportunities to discover more about your ideal work environment: This is a secondary advantage that presents itself as you visit each hospital and get an idea of what you like about each place and what the best fit would be if you wish to return to permanent work.

Some additional benefits of being a relief veterinarian that differ depending on whether you work for a relief company, hospital group, or as an independent relief veterinarian include covered license fees, included insurance/benefits, a consolidated area to find shifts more easily, simplified taxes, and control over hourly rates.

What a relief!

According to McMillan, relief veterinarians are incredibly versatile and help alleviate stress for partner hospitals and entrepreneurs alike. Here is how.

For partner hospitals

McMillan shared with attendees that "a good relief-clinic relationship can reinvigorate the entire team by allowing overworked staff to take mental-health breaks or time off." Relief veterinarians do this by sharing the workload with full-time associates, filling gaps when a hospital is in the process of hiring new permanent associates, providing temporary support during upticks in business and beyond.

For entrepreneurs

For those just opening a hospital and building their client base, adding a relief veterinarian to the team can be more advantageous than hiring an associate when you may not need them. McMillan explained that relief veterinarians can also be beneficial when you need an associate but can't find one to fill in the gaps.

Getting creative with using relief veterinarians

Each relief veterinarian has a unique set of skills and interests that can be utilized to a practice's advantage. For example, while some relief veterinarians may prefer urgent care, others may prefer surgery or dentistry. Meanwhile, those with more experience can provide leadership and fill voids in the hospital.

"Relief veterinarians are very dynamic, there's a lot of dimensions to being a relief veterinarian and as far as the hospital is concerned, you want to be agile, you want to be creative with how you use and leverage your relief veterinarians," McMillan noted.

Some ways practices can utilize the relief workers include allowing them to see appointments while associates focus on getting caught up, plus they can serve as a resource for an alternate perspective, contributing input on treatments and products being used at other hospitals, additional medicines that may be needed, and more.

Relief veterinarians: The synergistic relationship

The goal of relief veterinarians is to complement the practice and benefit all those in the clinic, said McMillan. Maximizing the use of relief veterinarians enables the hospital to remain profitable while continuing to offer the best quality patient care.

McMillan summed up the lecture with a quote by Cindy Trice, DVM, founder and chief innovation officer of Relief Rover, "Like bees picking up pollen on 1 flower and taking it to another, relief vets are conduits of knowledge exchange."

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