Qualities of a successful relief veterinarian


Qualities of a successful relief veterinarian

Apr 01, 2006
By dvm360.com staff

Not everyone’s suited for a career as a relief veterinarian. But if you communicate well in different environments, manage your time and money wisely, and maintain a professional demeanor, you could be well positioned for relief practice. Here’s a more comprehensive list of qualities every relief doctor needs.

Communication skills
As a relief doctor, I constantly interacted with teams with different styles. Hospital owners prioritize and manage differently. Staff members come to the plate with myriad backgrounds, goals, and interests. You need to jump in and do the job without running into communication roadblocks. While a classroom can seem very far from the exam room, a course on strengthening your communication skills will teach you to listen actively and explain your ideas more clearly to team members—and to clients.

When you’re the only doctor in someone else’s hospital, you need to lead and support a medical team that’s not familiar with your strengths. This means that you need strong self-confidence. That’s one reason I don’t recommend relief practice to new graduates. More experienced practitioners with strong medical skills and an understanding of how a hospital runs are naturally better prepared for the challenges of relief practice.

Because you’ll be working with many doctors and clinics, you must keep accurate records of every assignment. Few things will make you look worse than double booking or showing up for the wrong assignment on the wrong day.

Money management skills
When you’re self-employed and facing variable monthly income it’s critical to develop a budget and stick to it. Expenses you’ll want to consider: debt payments; living expenses, including health insurance and your investments to your retirement account; and operating costs, including required licenses, marketing, continuing education, liability insurance, and equipment. Of course, you may need to better position yourself for relief work and the fluctuations in income that it brings by lowering your debt, increasing your savings, and re-evaluating your expenses before you make this career transition.

Another consideration: taxes. You’ll have to pay taxes throughout the year because you’re self-employed. Consult your tax advisor and get information from www.irs.gov regarding ways to calculate estimated taxes and your eligibility for tax deductions. Be sure to record all business-related income and expenses, so you save time and headaches at tax filing time.

Ethical, professional behavior
You’ve likely heard of relief veterinarians who overrode hospital fees or offered house call services to pet owners at lower fees than their regular veterinarian. Actions like these can—and should—end a relief career. You’re entitled to set and change your fees, but not anybody else’s.

Another land mine: Getting involved in gossiping, whining, or any unprofessional behavior with staff members or other doctors. This conduct sets a bad example—and it’s bad for business.

Flexibility with your schedule
Try to adapt to your clients’ schedules and practice philosophies. The more flexible you are, the happier your clients will be, which means more business.

Of course, don’t feel that you must agree with everything. If a hospital wants you to work five nights in a row and you need to spend this time with your family, then negotiate less time or decline the offer. You’ll probably accept most assignments as you’re building up your clientele and can be pickier about which assignments you take later. Remember, if you let your clients’ needs be the only factor in deciding your schedule over the long term, then you lose one of the key advantages of relief practice—control of your time.