ER to GP vet
Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee Jess
Words by:
Jessica Nord, VMD — Associate IndeVet

Ask any ER veterinarian why they chose emergency medicine, and you’ll get a number of similar responses:

  • “I love the varied caseload and unpredictability of what is going to walk through the door.”
  • “A 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule is just not for me.”
  • “The last thing I want to do is manage chronic conditions.”
  • “I hate general practice!”

That last line is unfortunately a common refrain in the ER world. I would know it: after my rotating internship, I spent the next 6 years working solely in referral practices.

Despite previously assisting in the veterinary clinic where my family has taken their pets for years, my understanding of general practice had diminished with time.

Moving from ER to relief vet

When I was looking for a career change, I didn’t know where to start.

The allure of emergency medicine had faded, but I wasn’t sure how I would fit into the general practice world. Like a romantic recently out of a long-term relationship, I knew I needed to get back in the game but wasn’t yet ready to settle down; I wanted a way to experience new people and places but with less commitment; and after years of restrictive contracts and working primarily on someone else’s terms, I wanted to taste some freedom.

While certainly a new venture, general practice relief, specifically through IndeVets, checked all those boxes.

I was apprehensive at first about making the jump, but I’ve found that many of the preconceived notions we ER veterans have harbored about general practice are unfounded, and those that existed purely due to logistics, like scheduling, have been mitigated by working with a company whose mission it is to make a full-time relief gig a reality for many veterinarians.

Thinking of making the switch from ER to GP relief? Here are 5 reasons why you should, stat.

More from Dr. Nord: 5 tips for seamless case transfers

Reason #1: As a relief vet, variety abounds.

While it’s true that many a vaccine is given and an ear cleaned in general practice, it’s certainly not all puppies and skin.

An average day in GP is not too dissimilar from the ER: a variety of acute and chronic issues fill out the schedule, ranging from wellness and the aforementioned dermatologic issue to gastrointestinal disease, trauma, multi-organ dysfunction, and end of life discussions.

While GP may be lighter on the doom and gloom of the steady torrent of serious illness seen in the ER, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

Taking care of a bouncing, rambunctious kitten or a wagging, geriatric Lab are reminders of why we entered this profession to start: to see health and happiness at all life stages.

Reason #2: Chronic conditions, minimally managed

Working in GP, regardless of role, means that you will, in fact, have to manage chronic conditions; that said, because of the nature of a relief schedule, management is only short-term.

While we strive to do the best for our hyperthyroid cats who need recheck blood work and medication management or our atopic dogs who are having breakthrough secondary infections, the likelihood that you will be following up with that patient is low.

On the flip side, if you become a regular at a particular clinic, you can choose to perform your own rechecks. This flexibility is incredibly rewarding, as there is no expectation that a client becomes “yours” just because you’ve seen them once; however, longer-term follow up is still an option if you want it.

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Reason #3: As a relief vet, you can choose your own schedule.

While 9-5s may not be ER doctors’ jams, the erratic ER schedule consisting of 12+ hour shifts, nights, weekends, and holidays is not something many emergency veterinarians boast about.

This type of schedule is mentally and physically taxing, which is why so many tend to burn out of emergency medicine after only a few years. A happy medium is the GP relief schedule: no nights or holidays, minimal to no weekends (up to you!), and working as many or as few shifts as you want.

Being an IndeVet means that a full-time schedule is 34 hours per week, calculated quarterly. Doctor’s appointments or family in town? You can choose to schedule yourself heavier one week to make up for a lighter week in the future.

And unlike a classic relief set-up, where work may be feast one month and famine the next, IndeVets guarantees a minimum number of hours to maintain a part- or full-time schedule, eliminating worry about work availability.

Reason #4: With relief work, it’s all work, less drama.

Choice also extends to clinics. For commitment-phobes like me, the ability to move from clinic to clinic if I want is a great feeling; that said, I have come to love many of the hospitals I’ve visited, choosing to schedule myself more consistently at these places.

Relief life allows veterinarians to focus on the medicine and the positive relationships that come out of our time at partner hospitals while decreasing the stress and hassle of becoming mired in hospital decision-making and culture. Especially as your region matures, your options expand, allowing for an even more flexible, diverse (or consistent!) schedule with time.

Further reading: How to make the switch from ER to GP vet

Reason #5: Relief work is more than “rewarding enough.”

Often, I hear from my colleagues who are disillusioned with the current state of emergency medicine that they would rather tough it out than transition to general practice for fear of it not being “rewarding enough.” This could not be further from the truth!

Whether it’s counseling a pet owner on avoiding intoxication and trauma around the home to recommending routine screening diagnostics so that chronic conditions aren’t first found when an animal becomes seriously ill, the general practitioner is on the front lines of pet health, advising owners on best practices to avoid the emergency room altogether.

And when illness does strike, veterinarians with a background in emergency are doubly prepared to expediently treat these pets and guide their owners in decision-making.

In closing

If your relationship with the ER has grown chilly and you’re looking for something new, general practice relief through IndeVets may just be what the doctor ordered. If a never-GPer like me could find such a welcome home among the IndeVets family and our partner hospitals, I know you will too!

Dr. Jessica Nord is an Associate IndeVet practicing in South Carolina.

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On grief and grieving: An ER vet’s tale

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