Community Spotlight:
Relief Rover
The veterinary relief, (locum), market currently holds a unique position. Relief services are desperately needed yet are underutilized and misunderstood. Practice owners and associates are stretched thin as they serve ever more clients and pets. With this added demand on veterinarians, there’s a greater justification to share the work load, allowing time for recuperation from job stresses. Hiring relief vets is a sound investment in the most important asset practices have - the physical and mental wellness of their employees.

With this in mind, Relief Rover , an innovative, national platform that connects relief vets with practices, was founded in 2018. Veterinary practices in need of relief services, can join Relief Rover, post jobs, and contact relief vets directly from the site. Targeted search functions allow employers to find relief vets that fit their specific needs based on area, scope of practice, and species seen.

Practices can also feature their hospitals with detailed job postings that will allow them to highlight what makes their practice special. This allows a two way search increasing the chances of making a suitable match. For veterinary practices looking for a relief coverage, don’t forget to consider that some vets are willing to travel for work. In your job descriptions, think beyond listing medical equipment and characterizing capable staff. Mention the recreational features your area offers and any housing or travel subsidies you can provide.

Additionally, the site has many features and resources specifically for relief practitioners like community forums, a wage calculator, and an overview of licensing requirements by state.

Practices can under utilize relief vets in two ways. Either they don’t use them when they would clearly benefit, or they don’t maximize their potential. Relief vets are invaluable resources and more than just warm bodies with veterinary degrees who “baby sit” practices. They are business to business service providers with expertise in looking after your practice while you are away. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of utilizing relief services and tips for maximizing productivity on days when you have relief coverage.

Benefits of Hiring a Relief Vet

Rest and Renewal

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 relief vets to mind the practice while owners or associates take that hard earned vacation, personal day, sick day, maternity / paternity leave, or even some longer 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 case load of the absent doctor in addition to their own. This coverage strategy creates a cycle of burn out and resentment as associates feel overworked or guilty for having taken time off. Patient care and client satisfaction also suffer under these circumstances as vets and staff try to cram more patients into the schedules of less doctors. Relief vets are well worth the cost as they help maintain work flow to keep clients happy, pets cared for, and staff sane.

Fresh Ideas
Relief vets 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 vets pick up a range of case management styles, treatment tips, communication strategies, storage ideas, organizational techniques, and more. This information is absorbed then passed along, adopted, or repurposed to the benefit of other clinics. Our practices benefit from sharing the collective knowledge stored in the community of veterinarians, technicians, assistants, and receptionists. Examples of this are many and include 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, and the list goes on and on.

Busy Spurts
Some parts of the country experience seasonal upticks in business but don’t have enough case load to support a year round associate. Relief vets are perfect for this situation since you don’t have the commitment and associated costs of a full time vet. Some relief vets are willing to travel or live part time in different parts of the country in pursuit of lifestyle and seasonal work, so your relief vet choices may not be limited to a local pool.

Ready for Growth
Perhaps your clinic is experiencing steady growth but you aren’t sure if the practice is ready to support another full time veterinarian. Hire a relief vet for a few months to test the viability of another doctor and evaluate any additional staff needs or work flow modifications required to accommodate this change.

Unexpected Absences
Having a pool of local relief vets with which you are familiar can be very helpful if you find yourself with unexpected absences and need to quickly fill shifts.
Looking for an Associate

Some veterinarians 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 practitioners 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 vets. If you are looking for an associate you may want to “foster” a relief vet to see if there is an opportunity for a “forever” home. Alternatively, relief vets can provide coverage so you can take your time and find the perfect associate for your practice.

Tips for Maximizing Relief Vet Days

It’s been advised many times over that reception is the most important function of a clinic when it comes to client impressions and this especially applies when using relief vets. It’s best not to use the “R” word, (relief), when speaking with clients. If receptionists say, “Dr. Associate is not here today but would you like to see the relief vet?”, clients are likely to reply, “Uh…no thanks.” That appointment slot will remain open and you will pay the relief vet at best to read veterinary journals and at worst to play Candy Crush on their phone. Training your receptionists to say something more akin to, “Dr. Trice, one of our trusted partner vets, is available to see Fluffy today”. Client’s will feel more comfortable seeing an unknown vet if they hear a name and know that this is someone in whom the practice has confidence.

A mistake I’ve seen made on multiple occasions is to refrain from telling the client which vet they will be seeing. This allows the pet owner to assume they will have an appointment with their primary doctor. Some practices take this approach to make sure the appointments get filled, often with unfortunate results. Clients do not like this! They feel betrayed when a vet other than whom they are expecting walks in the room. This leaves the relief vet in an awkward position when the client asks why they were not informed that they wouldn’t be seeing their regular veterinarian. It’s best to avoid this situation. If the appointment scheduling is handled appropriately from the first phone call, then the majority of clients will be willing to bring their pets to see the relief vet.

If a staff doctor knows they have patients that will be rechecked or scheduled for a relief vet day, it really helps to prepare clients for this. They can assure the pet owners that although they will not be in the office for the followup, they have confidence in the attending veterinarian’s medical judgement. In the event of a particularly complicated case, the primary vet may want to round the relief vet directly and then inform the client of that communication.

Make sure your staff clearly understands the work flow, practice management system, pricing, inventory, medical devices, and diagnostic equipment. Most practices have a few particularly seasoned managers, techs, and receptionists. If possible, make sure they are scheduled on relief days. Relief vets work with many different types of practice management systems and rely on employees to help them navigate the particulars of how each clinic uses the software.

Keeping clear records is important in any type of medical practice. Yet all of us that have worked as clinical vets know that consistent perfection in record keeping can be hard to attain. Medical record quality and legibility vary widely. One of the relief vet’s super powers is decoding illegible or incomplete medical records. However, high quality patient care is more efficiently achieved when complete medical histories are more easily discerned. Keep all others who may need to consult the patient’s chart in mind when writing your records. Relief vets will show you the same courtesy.

Encourage clients to bring in their sick, (or well), pets as work-in appointments rather than having them wait to see the primary vet. The pets will be cared for faster, the clients will greatly appreciate having their problems addressed quickly, and the relief vet will be productive for your practice.

Find out if your relief vet has special skills that will contribute to your practice. Perhaps they have extra training in dentistry, ultrasound, or surgery. Utilize their expertise on relief days to keep a high standard of patient care and the appointment books full.