First of all, what is a relief vet?  Relief veterinarians are fully licensed veterinarians that fill in for other veterinarians when they need to be away from the office.  This might include vacations, family emergencies or taking a sabbatical.

There are many reasons a veterinarian becomes a relief doctor.  They might have needed a change or are moving to a new town or want to open a practice but need income before they open the clinic doors.  The list can go on.  But what makes them successful?

I have made a short list of what I have found the most important traits that make for a good relief veterinarian.

1. Punctuality.

First of all you need to be present to do your requested job.  It is always best to be there on time and ready for your first appointment or surgery.  You are being paid for your time and being punctual applies to the end of the shift as well.   Now, there are times when complicated appointments run over allotted time or an emergency comes through the door near closing. Those should be understandably considered a legitimate reason for charging over your agreed upon time and rate.

2. Communication.

Discuss with your employer prior to a job what is expected of you as a clinician.  This also applies to what you are willing to do and your abilities as a practicing veterinarian. For instance, I do enjoy surgery and am willing to help with scheduled surgery days however, I do not perform onychectomies (declaw procedures). Your employer needs to relay this information to the practice manager or those in charge of scheduling appointments so as not to disrupt client services and relationships when possible.

3. Documentation.

Take a little extra time to make sure your medical records are thorough and clearly written (if still paper charting). This is imperative to have for your employer after you are gone.  Think of this as if you were still in practice with other associates and one of them had the day off or on vacation.  You wouldn’t want to try to piece together a history from half-assed note taking! This leads to number four.

4. Be courteous.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Help out your fellow doctors: consult on cases when asked, take that walk-in if you have time, make a call back to that worried client.  Do a little leg work for your technicians and assistants: grab the vaccines you’ll need, help restrain for blood draws (we all have days when we can’t hit a vein), start the labwork.  Say “Please” and “Thank you.” You see what I’m getting at here?

5. Practice like it is your own clinic.

Consider the clients and patients as those that you will see again and again.  Take a little time to get to know them and their stories (most are more than willing to share 😉 this can run into number 1).  Offer the very best medicine and if they cannot afford it don’t make them feel bad about it.  Odds are they already do.  Have the receptionists schedule call backs even for simple vaccinations.  Tell them their dog is handsome or their cat is sweet (even if it is a little growly).  Practice fear-free techniques for pets and owners that seem anxious.

6.  Adaptability.

Every clinic has its own way of getting things done. Most have the same general concept but with tweaks here and there. From years of experience or developed from the newest trends in veterinary medicine to fit the practice.  Personalities, equipment, charting, surgical protocols, in house labs, staff responsibilities are all varied from job to job. It is our responsibility as relief veterinarians to go with the flow.  Check out the clinics prior to your first day (when possible) to see what they have and how everything works.  If there is something you would like to have at all times and the hospital doesn’t have it, bring it with you.  If it’s expensive equipment then it may be worth your investment if it will help with numbers 1-5.

While these are not all it takes to become a good relief vet, I think it is a good place to start.  I hope this helps veterinarians that are on the fence about making the jump to relief work or seasoned locums looking for a boost.  Practice owners and managers looking to hire a relief doctor can also use this as a tool to find a good match for their hospitals.

Let me know what you think in the comments.  Are there any other qualities you have or have seen that should be on the short list for a good relief vet?

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