5 Benefits of Veterinary Relief Work
By Melissa King, VMD
If you have ever thought about relief work, you have probably wondered what some of the benefits of this type of veterinary medicine are. After more than five years as a relief veterinarian, below is my list of the top 5 benefits of relief work:
1. Extra Money
Let’s start with the most obvious and tangible benefit of relief work, extra cash. According to a recent publication by the AVMA, “Total debt for 2016 graduates of U.S. veterinary colleges was estimated at $418 million.” Our debt-to-income ratio is high enough to have encouraged an entire summit to address the topic in 2016. Put plainly, vets have big monthly bills to pay. Because many of us work partially (or fully) on commission, we don’t always know exactly how much money we will earn in a given month. This makes budgeting tricky, and some months we may realize we are going to come up short. In situations like this, having the option to pick up a relief shift or two on our days off can truly be the difference between the mortgage or daycare. And on months when we don’t “need” the extra money, my guess is most of us could still use it!
2. No Office Drama
Everyone who has ever worked in a veterinary hospital knows there is generally no shortage of office politics, interpersonal conflicts, and sometimes flat-out fights. With relief work, you are almost entirely removed from any of that. You go in, do the job you were hired to do and that’s it. You don’t know anyone well enough for them to unload office drama on you, and you will find that most teams are on their best behavior in front of a new doctor who they don’t have a feel for yet. It may not substitute for a yoga class or guided meditation, but there is serenity to be found in a shift free from conflict!
3. Work Stays at Work
When you work as an associate at a traditional practice, you take work home with you. Even if you don’t physically take files home with you (which many of us do), you still take the mental burden of work home with you. You worry Mrs. Smith will call you again tomorrow demanding answers as to why Maggie is still urinating in the house (Your diagnostics have led you exactly nowhere except to a hefty bill and an increasingly agitated client!). You worry the man who complained about the invoice will leave a bad review online saying you are “money-hungry.” You worry about Max who’s still itchy and about Mr. Klein who can’t keep paying for glucose curves. And on it goes. With relief work, you will find it refreshing to realize that the end of the workday is actually the end of the workday. You can’t take files home with you (no really, it’s illegal!) and your short interactions with clients don’t place the same strain that ongoing care with them often can. It can be a surprisingly refreshing change of pace allowing you to really enjoy time with patients and clients in a different way!
I mentioned picking up relief shifts as a source of supplemental income. However, it is quite possible to make relief work into your full-time job. Doing this allows you complete control and flexibility over your work schedule. My best example of making relief work “work” for me is when I was pregnant with my second son. I knew I would likely not want to work as much in my third trimester, so when I was feeling good (or as good as one feels while pregnant!) during my second trimester, I worked a lot in anticipation. When I found myself on bed-rest, unable to work at all in my third trimester, I was extremely relieved to know my yearly income would be largely unaffected as a result. Had I worked a traditional job, this flexibility would not have been possible, and I would have been financially strained as a result. While most situations aren’t this extreme, it highlights the level of flexibility provided by relief work when you choose your own hours and schedule.
5. New Experiences bring New Opportunities to Learn
One of the things I appreciate most about relief work is that I feel as though it keeps me fresh. Every hospital is different, and that almost always provides an opportunity to learn and grow. Many hospitals I have been to have medications in their pharmacy I have not heard of or had an opportunity to use yet. I’m always asking the staff about their experiences with these medications, if clients are liking them, if they are seeing side effects from them and so on. Additionally, many hospitals have some routine protocols in place that just make so much sense and yet I’ve never seen done before. For example, one hospital has 4 techs (yes 4!) to 1 doctor. I thought this was crazy at first, but the level of productivity in that hospital and the rate at which we are able to see, treat and discharge patients in a well-cared for manner is amazing. From a business standpoint, as the doctor, I’m doing the medicine that generates the revenue and nothing else, just moving smoothly from one appointment to the next, while the support staff is handling everything else. (Yes, it’s amazing!)
Whether one or all of the reasons above resonates with you, I am confident that relief work has something to offer almost every practicing vet. So, if you are considering relief work, whether to pick up some extra money or as a complete career transition, I encourage you to take the next step!