5 things you should Never do as a Locum Relief veterinary professional
According to the Collins Dictionary, to “drop a clanger” is to do or say something stupid or embarrassing.
Hey, we’ve all dropped our fair share of clangers, and it’s OK not to be perfect at work or in life! However, as a veterinary locum, we’d recommend actively avoiding a few common pitfalls of practice so you can work safely, professionally, and effectively. Here are five things you shouldn’t do as a veterinary locum…
‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ – Benjamin Franklin
Fail to protect yourself
As a locum, you are essentially a one-person veterinary business, so it is your responsibility to ensure that you are organised and set up correctly to practice legally and safely. Never start work in a new state/region without double-checking that you have all the required registrations and licenses to practice there, including regional radiation +/- microchip licenses. You should also remember to include your registration number when you’re certifying or signing off on professional documents, so your registration status can be confirmed if required.
If you’re planning to work as an independent contractor, it’s safest to take out your own professional indemnity insurance cover to protect you against mishaps. You should also review your life insurance and income protection coverage to ensure that you and any dependents would be in a secure position if you were to get seriously injured at work.
If you locum sporadically, you may be OK simply confirming in advance with prospective clinics that their practice insurance will cover you.
Lastly, it’s risky to rely on verbal agreements when starting any locum job. Instead, politely insist on a written contract that outlines details including:
- Your confirmed dates, hours, and rates of pay (regular vs after-hours)
- Any provision for short-term cancellation of the locum period by either party
- The method and frequency of payment for your services
- Any included insurance coverage
- Any travel cost or fuel reimbursement allowances
- The provision of vehicle or accommodation (and any associated duties/responsibilities)
This way, if worse comes to worst and the proverbial excrement hits the fan during your dealings with a clinic, you’ll be protected against any “he said, she said” regarding your working conditions and rights.
Expect veterinary practices and protocols to be the same in every clinic
If you have worked in more than one veterinary clinic, you will certainly agree that no two clinics are the same. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you enter a clinic with an inflexible mindset about how you’ll practice, you’re going to ruffle some staff and client feathers! As a locum, you’ll need to be adaptable, mindfully walking the line between maintaining standards of care that you are comfortable with and fitting in smoothly with the protocols, administration processes, and staff of each clinic.
For this reason, it’s best to have at least 2-3 years of clinical experience under your belt so that your general professional judgement, skills and confidence are reasonably well developed. However, you will also need to be conscious of taking direction where appropriate.
So that they can hit the ground running in new clinics, some locums create a checklist of clinic policy questions to run by the business owner, practice manager, or head vet in advance of starting work. This checklist can include subjects such as:
- The clinic policy for referrals
- The clinic policies for emergencies and after-hours patient care
- Booking policies (e.g. appointment times, walk-ins, late appointments)
- Scheduling for surgeries, e.g. number per day, any surgeries the practice declines to perform
- Any region-specific diseases (e.g. snake bite) to be aware of
- Any particular treatment protocols of the clinic, e.g. vaccination schedules, heartworm testing, euthanasia protocols
- Equipment the clinic has available, e.g. Tonopen, digital/dental radiography, in-house blood analysis, high-speed dental drill
- Controlled drugs – types of drugs available and details on access
Locums should also clearly communicate in advance any areas of practice that they are not comfortable with and will decline to perform, e.g. convenience euthanasia or orthopaedic surgery. Failing to be upfront about your strengths and weaknesses is a recipe for a poor clinic-locum relationship and unnecessary stress all round!
Leave all your accounting until tax time
If you brush all the work-related book-keeping chores to the side until tax time, you may lose money by charging insufficiently for your services or failing to practice in the most tax-effective way, and you could even end up on the wrong side of the taxation office. Thumbs down.
Before getting stuck into locum work, you should discuss your plans with an accountant or financial advisor experienced in assisting locums. Together, you can work out whether you would be best financially best off to work as a (locum) employee or as an independent contractor.
If you locum as a casual employee to a clinic or as an employee of an umbrella company, the clinic/company will organise the deduction of tax from your pay and any contributions to your retirement savings fund. Umbrella companies will charge you a regular fee for this financial management.
If you elect to work as an independent contractor, you will need to register your business and invoice clinics for your work, sorting out your own tax and retirement savings from your earnings. This can get complicated and therefore is often best done under the direction of an accountant for at least the first few years.
Regardless of how you choose to work, you should always record any work-related expenses to claim back at tax time. After all, who doesn’t love a tax refund splurge-purchase (a.k.a. “splurchase”)? Thumbs up!
As a locum, you are particularly in demand and valuable, so believe it and charge accordingly. But before you ask: no, unfortunately, we can’t tell you precisely what you should be charging as a locum. We’re good, but we’re not that good!
This is because pay rates vary based on your particular experience and skillset, the region that you’re working in, any additional allowances provided (e.g. provision of accommodation or vehicle, reimbursement for travel), and the type of work you’re accepting (e.g. GP vs emergency, after-hours). Check out these Salary Surveys from our sister platform VET&PET Jobs Marketplace in the USA, UK and Australia as a useful starting point.
Unfortunately, many veterinarians will undervalue themselves. As a minimum, locums should expect to earn at least 25-30% more than an equivalent full-time wage, to balance the fact that they receive no sick pay, holiday pay, or continuing education allowance. However, because locums also need to pay their individual insurance and license fees and make their own retirement savings contributions (and they’re in high demand), many locums currently charge 40-80% more than an equivalent full-time rate. Some last-minute or emergency jobs will even offer up to 2x average rates to try to attract talent.
If you perform any after-hours work, you should request an on-call allowance for monitoring the phone, and then receive either an hourly after-hours rate or a percentage of the fee charged to the client.
If you’re unsure of your current value, do some research: ask any locums you know their pay rate, or ask local vet friends what they are making as a permanent staff member (and extrapolate from there). It can also help to check out locum job ads online through veterinary employment agencies, locum agencies, or on VETERINARYlocumotion.
Fail to plan your work-life balance
As a locum, you have the freedom to agree only to the work days that suit you. So, you can organise days off as required for family-related commitments, hobbies, holidays, or just chillin’. But, to state the obvious, you also need to be mindful of working enough to meet (and hopefully exceed) your financial requirements. Locum life isn’t much fun if you can’t pay your bills, or if you’re working too hard and burn yourself out.
Achieving a good work-life balance will get easier with more locum experience. Early on, it may help you to take proper stock of your current financial situation. Tally up your average weekly/monthly/quarterly costs – you may need to go back through several months of bank transactions and categorise expenses (e.g. food, rent/mortgage, transport, bills, work-related, or lifestyle) to help you do this.
Next, how much do you expect to make per day as a locum? And therefore, how many shifts will you need to take per week/month to ensure that you are covering your financial bases? Once again, this can be a little tricky when you’re first getting started, as you may be inclined to take more and more shifts whilst they’re available – kind of like panic-buying to ensure that you don’t miss out. Just remember to set clear financial goals and personal boundaries for yourself, as this will help protect your mental health and ensure you always give your best at each clinic.
Once you have achieved your financial goals over a given period, it’s up to you whether you want to enjoy some well-earned R+R, or kick things up a notch short-term and earn some additional spending money.
By consciously avoiding these five common pitfalls when working as a locum, you can “keep calm and carry on” in the veterinary world – earning lucratively, working efficiently, and relaxing enjoyably.
- Working as a locum: Part 1 – 3 November 2021 – http://www.vetsuppliersdirectory.com.au/working-as-a-locum/
- Working as a locum: Part 2 – 29 November 2021 – http://www.vetsuppliersdirectory.com.au/working-as-a-locum-part-2/
- How much should I charge as a veterinary locum – undated – https://simplyvets.com/blog/how-much-should-i-charge-as-a-veterinary-locum
- How To Achieve a Low-Stress Locum Relief Life – 1 April 2022 – https://www.veterinarylocumotion.com/blog/how-to-achieve-a-low-stress-locum-relief-life/
- How to be tax-compliant when working as a locum vet – 8 November 2021 – https://www.vsgd.co/secret-support-blog-home/2021/blog/taxcompliance/vetservice
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