How To Find Attract & Keep Locum Relief Veterinarians
A Guide for Practice Owners
Like many practice owners, you may be finding yourself a bit short-staffed these days. As the demand for veterinary services increases, there simply aren’t enough veterinarians to fill every single open position. In many practices, this shortage means temporarily relying on the help of a locum relief vet.
While locum relief veterinarians can offer tremendous value to your practice and help with filling in gaps, they can also be in short supply. Depending on your location, there may be a limited number of locum relief vets in your area, and there might be a surprisingly large number of practices courting them.
Read on to learn how you can make your practice stand out, improving your likelihood of finding, attracting and keeping high-quality locum relief assistance…
Why do you need to compete for relief veterinarians?
On the surface, it might seem silly that you need to compete for a relief vet. After all, relief work is rising in popularity and the number of relief veterinarians in the United States increased by 30% from 2008 to 2018.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to find a relief veterinarian when you need one. According to veterinary staffing firms, it may take months or even up to a year to find a relief vet. If you are looking to fill an immediate staffing gap or bring in some relief help to get you through a busy season, a delay of months to a year is probably not what you had in mind.
Taking a proactive, creative approach and making your practice attractive to relief vets can improve your odds of attracting quality help in a reasonable timeframe.
Begin by assessing your practice and making needed updates
Just like full-time associates, relief veterinarians typically want to work in a practice that matches their overall medical philosophy. If your practice offers outdated medicine in an aging facility that lacks modern equipment and supplies, you may struggle to find a relief vet.
If you have been considering improvements but haven’t yet followed through, now is the time to tackle those tasks. All other factors being equal, a modern, state-of-the-art practice will likely find it easier to attract relief help than an outdated practice.
Set aside some time to take an honest, hard look at your practice. Consider the following questions, being honest in your responses:
- Does your practice have the medical equipment that is necessary to provide quality care, such as thermometers, otoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, functioning lab and radiology equipment, and other supplies?
- Does your practice stock a variety of commonly-used medications?
- Are your exam rooms clean and well-stocked?
- Is your treatment area clean, well-stocked, and well-organized?
- Do you have an adequate number of trained support staff?
- Do you have appropriate anesthetic medications, anesthesia monitoring equipment, and pain medication?
Although you may have learned to work around your practice’s limitations, these limitations may inhibit your ability to attract relief help. You don’t necessarily need to completely upgrade your facility or change your entire practice philosophy, but some simple updates may help your practice come across in a more favorable light.
Be creative and flexible in your search
There are a number of ways to find relief help. You may decide to run an advertisement, respond to ads placed by relief vets, or ask other local practices for recommendations…or sign up for a subscription to VETERINARYlocumotion to get matched with locum relief staff in real-time. Regardless of how you find and reach out to potential candidates, though, you should be prepared to “sell” your practice a bit. You may need to compete with other practices to attract a relief vet.
Begin by highlighting what makes your practice unique. Focus on medical quality, highlighting the level of care your practice offers and what tools a relief vet will have at their disposal. Emphasize other perks of your work environment, such as a high support staff to doctor ratio, credentialed veterinary technicians, 30-minute appointments, etc. And finally, don’t hesitate to mention other benefits that your practice or location offer. Is your practice in a trendy downtown area that will allow your relief vet to fun shops or restaurants on their lunch break? If you’re looking for longer-term relief coverage (for a vacation or maternity leave), can you provide housing and make your area sound like an appealing place for a family getaway? Do you offer a longer lunch break or earlier closing time than other practices? You never know what little factors might appeal to someone, so don’t hesitate to mention anything that might make your practice stand out.
When you find an interested relief veterinarian, focus on negotiating an agreement that is a win-win for both of you. In a perfect world, you might want someone who can work 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. with a one-hour lunch. However, some vets may need to leave by 4:30 pm to pick a child up from daycare, may need to come in a bit later in the morning, or may appreciate a longer lunch break. Have you ever heard the phrase, “perfect is the enemy of good?” Don’t miss out on a great relief veterinarian because you’re looking for perfection. Consider which factors are non-negotiable in your search, and where you have room for flexibility.
Ensure that your relief veterinarian has the best first day possible, to ensure repeat visits
Working with a relief veterinarian, especially one that you hope to have return in the future, isn’t all that different from welcoming a new employee. Sure, a relief vet is expected to jump in and be productive immediately, but you still want to ensure that they feel welcome in your practice and that things go smoothly.
Speak positively about your relief veterinarian to your employees and clients. Clients may be hesitant to see a relief vet, especially if they pick up on any hesitation from your front desk staff. Also, surprising your clients with a relief veterinarian is never a good idea. Talk positively about the relief vet to your team, and encourage them to pass this positivity on to your clients. If clients are excited to see the new relief vet, instead of apprehensive, this will result in a better day for both your relief vet and your team.
Try to schedule your relief veterinarian’s first day on a day that you will be working, so you are available to help them acclimate to your practice. If you will not be working, select an experienced team member (such as your office manager) who can welcome them and help them get established on their first day. This “host” can take them on a brief clinic tour, introduce them to key team members, show them where to place their belongings, help get them set up on your practice’s computer system, and answer any questions that arise during the day.
Pair your relief veterinarian with a friendly, experienced veterinary technician for appointments. Not only should that technician have appropriate technical skills, they should also be familiar with your practice’s protocols and standard operating procedures. Having a tech who can help “drive” appointments that first day (in a helpful, non-pushy way) can allow the relief vet to focus on medical tasks as they become familiar with how things flow in your hospital.
Some people are willing to tolerate an unpleasant work environment in exchange for a high rate of pay. If your relief vet has many practices to choose from, though, providing a warm, enjoyable work environment will likely go a long way towards maximizing the likelihood that they return to your practice.
Follow up with your relief veterinarian promptly
Make sure to follow up with the relief veterinarian after their first day. If you worked together, this might be as simple as a brief chat in the treatment area before they leave. If you were off work, connect via email. The relief vet will likely reach out to you with information on cases that need follow-up care, but you can also follow up by providing constructive, positive feedback on how the day went. If the day was a success, this is a good time to discuss the possibility of additional work together.
Your relief vet’s relief agreement will likely spell out the terms for payment, telling you whether you must pay them within 30 days or some other time period. If you are eager to have the veterinarian return, it’s best to pay as soon as you receive an invoice. Clients who pay promptly, and without the need for reminders, are typically regarded as good clients, whom the relief vet will be glad to work for again in the future.
Competition for relief veterinarians can be intense. Investing some extra effort before, during, and after your search can help ensure that you find and retain the best relief vet possible…and signing up for a subscription to VETERINARYlocumotion to get matched with locum relief staff in real-time may be the ideal solution.
- Relief practice not just a temporary gig – 14 November 2019. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2019-12-01/relief-practice-not-just-temporary-gig As viewed on 23 February 2022.
- How To Find A Good Relief Vet – August 2017. https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/find-good-relief-vet As viewed on 23 February 2022.
- TRENDS IN YOUR INBOX: Oh, what a relief it is—Relief veterinarians can help create a better work-life balance – 20 September 2018. https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2018-09/trends-in-your-inbox-oh-what-a-relief-it-is-relief-veterinarians-can-help-create-a-better-work-life-balance As viewed on 23 February 2022.
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