How to make the change from Associate to Relief Vet
(without giving up what you love about your job)
By Andrew Heller, DVM
Thinking about leaving your associate job and becoming a relief vet? You would certainly be following a hot trend in the veterinary field. The idea of making more money for less work, while cutting the restrictive and overbearing cord between employer and employee, is convincing many veterinarians to make the switch. But is relief all that it’s cracked up to be? Here I will fact check some of the claims made about relief work and help you decide if it’s truly what you are looking for.
Claim #1: I will make more money as a relief vet than I did as an associate for less hours worked.
Rating: True sometimes
The average general practice associate earns a salary equal to about $40-60 per hour for about 40 hours a week, depending on the region of the country. General practice relief vets around the country earn a range of $60-100+ per hour – but hours vary week by week. So, to make the above claim true, you would need to assume that you are guaranteed steady work when you want it. You must factor in the number of hours spent on administrative tasks – marketing, scheduling, contracts, invoicing, accounting/taxes, collections for unpaid wages, etc. Not to mention having to advocate for yourself and your services 100% of the time. Also remember to factor in the benefits that you miss out on working for yourself (more on that below). After taking it all into account, it’s certainly a close call.
Claim #2: I will work less than I did as an associate and avoid burnout.
Rating: Mostly False
Let’s face facts. Veterinarians want to help people and their pets, but our kindness and generosity doesn’t stop there. When we are asked to stay late to see more patients, cover for a colleague who called out sick, or help a desperate practice who needs relief coverage, we have a hard time saying no. Most relief vets that I know work more hours and more shifts than most associates do. It’s not uncommon to hear about a relief vet working 6 or 7 days in a row. Defining boundaries, and keeping them, is a luxury enjoyed by very few relief vets. And now, with the countless quarantine adoptions and the historical economic strength in the pet health sector, it adds up to unprecedented demand for veterinarians. So, if you’re going into relief work, you better practice saying “No” or it’s a fast track to the same burnout you were trying to avoid as an associate.
Claim #3: There is so much relief work out there that I will have my pick of jobs.
Rating: Mostly False
Developing a great reputation as a relief vet takes time, energy, persistence, and above all organization. There are many jobs out there, as most relief vets will tell you, but finding the practices you enjoy working in, and maintaining great relationships with them, while still diversifying your clientele, can be an overly complicated juggling act. Often relief vets will schedule a 2-week gig at the same practice, only to discover how miserable they are at that practice after the second shift… with eight more to go! Ugh. Other times, relief vets will have a choice between two or even three practices and find it difficult to say no to some, thinking they are risking future opportunities at the practice they are forced to reject. The stress of choosing your workplaces becomes a new path to burnout that you never expected.
Claim #4: The benefits I get from being an associate aren’t worth enough to justify an associate’s salary.
Quantifying benefits is not as straightforward as it seems. Believe me, I’ve been doing it for 2-and-a-half years and I am still confused. Of course, there are objective calculations for determining the value of PTO, 401K, CE, and medical licenses. But being part of a company where you benefit from the collective can be more difficult to value. Health insurance plans are generally better and cheaper when you are part of a corporate structure, so comparing your plan from the health exchange to a corporate option can be comparing apples to oranges.
As an associate, your employer contributes to your social security and employment taxes, which you are responsible for paying when working as a 1099 contractor. Group discounts on VIN, online CE, and other perks such as personal pet care discounts are hard to quantify, not to mention the added stress of having to manage all of it on your own. But in the end, hourly rate is not the only factor to consider when deciding between your options.
So, what’s next?
There’s a lot to consider when making the jump from an associate to a relief vet. But there is a way to get the best of BOTH worlds when you join IndeVets. IndeVets is professionalizing veterinary staffing by connecting the world’s top veterinarians and animal hospitals. Earn great pay as a W2 employee and receive great benefits (better than most associate jobs), but with the true flexibility that you are looking for when considering a career in relief practice. IndeVets lets you choose your shifts from over 500 vetted hospital partnerships, while helping you maintain the boundaries you set for yourself and avoiding the burnout you were headed towards previously.
Being truly supported by our community of IndeVets and their leadership, while always maintaining the high medical standards you strive to practice, is just the beginning of what makes IndeVets the best company to work for in clinical practice.
Andrew Heller, DVM is Chief Growth Officer of IndeVets.