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Why Relief Vets Are an Asset to Modern Veterinary Clinics

Last Updated on September 27, 2023 by Dogs Vets

Why Relief Vets Are an Asset to Modern Veterinary Clinics



Veterinary medicine has come a long way in recent decades. Advances in technology, treatment options, and the overall standard of care have dramatically improved the services clinics can provide for pets and their owners.

However, with progress comes new challenges. One major shift has been the increased demand for veterinary services across the board.

More pet owners are prioritizing preventive and elective vet care for their furry companions. This influx of patients has put immense pressure on clinics, especially smaller practices with just a few staff vets. Burnout and compassion fatigue have become pressing issues facing the profession today.

This is where relief veterinarians can step in to ease the burden. Also known as locum tenens vets, these contracted doctors fill gaps in staffing when permanent vets take time off or leave the practice.

They provide flexible coverage that allows clinics to handle patient loads seamlessly. For clinic owners and managers, the question is no longer whether to use relief vets, but how best to leverage them as assets in today’s veterinary landscape.

Balancing Supply and Demand

One of the foremost challenges for veterinary clinics is matching staffing levels to patient demand. Pet owners’ schedules vary dramatically throughout the year based on factors like vacation seasons, weather changes, seasonal allergies, and holiday gift adoptions.

Meanwhile, clinics must continually provide prompt, high-quality care for both routine and emergency cases. This leaves little room for error in capacity planning and staff schedules. If regular vets work overtime for too long, fatigue sets in which increases the risk of medical mistakes. Alternatively, having too much downtime results in lost revenue.

Relief veterinarian services add flexibility to adapt staffing to dynamic demand. Their on-call availability allows clinics to scale up or down swiftly.

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For example, booking extra relief vets for busy seasons or holidays alleviates pressure on regular staff without forcing unsustainable hours.

Covering absent vets during summer vacations also maintains smooth operations. This real-time scalability ensures adequate vet coverage to satisfy pet owners and prevent revenue losses from turning away patients.

Reducing Burnout

Veterinary medicine has one of the highest rates of professional burnout. A major culprit is the intensity of work. Vets juggle substantial caseloads day in and day out, with little separation between work and personal life.

Added to this pressure is the emotional weight of euthanasia cases, grieving pet owners, and the strain of perfectionism. The risk of depression, anxiety, and even suicide ideation is staggeringly high for vets.

Relief vets mitigate burnout by sharing the workload. Their availability reduces the relentless pressure on staff vets to be on call around the clock.

Off-site relief vets can eliminate overnight shiftwork that is exceptionally taxing. Staff vets can take weekends and holidays off without worries of leaving patients unattended.

The cumulative effect of this workload relief is improved mental health, less cynicism, and stronger professional satisfaction. Preventing veterinarian burnout improves retention rates, as many vets quit due to sheer exhaustion and poor work-life balance.

Filling Specialist Shortages

Certain veterinary specialties like surgery, dentistry, and ophthalmology require advanced training and skills. However, most neighborhoods cannot support a full-time specialist on staff. Relief vet agencies can provide access to specialists on a part-time, as-needed basis.

For high-revenue procedures like orthopedic surgery and dental cleanings, clinics hire specialist relief vets periodically to capture this income.

Pet owners appreciate the convenience of using their regular vet for specialist services. Clinics establish a reputation as a one-stop shop for comprehensive care.

Relief vet networks also facilitate knowledge sharing across clinics. Specialists teach general vets new techniques and consult on difficult cases.

This raises the capabilities of the overall veterinary workforce. Consequently, relief vets benefit patients and practitioners alike by filling gaps in specialty care.

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Freeing Up Regular Vets

To operate efficiently, veterinary clinics need their staff vets focused on delivering medical services, not performing administrative tasks.

However, vets often get bogged down managing inventory, placing supply orders, developing standard operating procedures, and handling human resource duties like interviewing and onboarding new hires.

These activities are important but divert time and mental energy away from practicing veterinary medicine.

Bringing in relief vets for clinical coverage allows regular vets to devote time to non-medical operations. Taking an afternoon once a week to catch up on managerial work has a tremendous impact on job satisfaction and stress levels.

It also benefits the clinic, as vets can give proper attention to improving systems and processes to support the growing practice. A refreshed vet performing at their peak has far more impact than a burned-out vet just trying to make it through the week.

Maintaining Consistency During Absences

Staff turnover is a troublesome issue for veterinary clinics. When a staff vet leaves permanently, it disrupts the patient experience and clinic culture.

Frequent changes in vets undermine pet owners’ trust and confidence in the practice. Yet scrambling to find and hire a replacement vet introduces more instability.

Contracting relief vets enables continuity of care when staff vets depart. The immediate coverage gives clinics breathing room for a proper hiring process.

Relief vets keep patients progressing rather than stagnating for weeks or months waiting for a new staff vet. Pets with ongoing medical issues especially benefit from consistent care. Relief vets maintain normalcy through tumultuous transitions, preventing dips in patient outcomes or clinic revenues.

Improving Staff Morale and Camaraderie

Veterinary medicine can be an isolating profession. Vets often work independently with patients and have limited interaction with colleagues. Tight-knit staff teams are difficult to cultivate when vets operate in silos. Furthermore, understaffing exacerbates this lonely experience.

Relief vets infuse clinics with fresh personalities and working styles. The variety stimulates idea-sharing, continuing education, and mentoring.

Staff vets enjoy bonding with vets outside their clinic “bubble” to exchange experiences. Younger vets learn techniques and philosophies from seasoned relief vets. The blend of familiarity and novelty creates a dynamic, collaborative environment.

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Additionally, simply having adequate staffing lifts moods by reducing the stress of understaffing. This improved camaraderie enhances job satisfaction, teamwork, and compassion for patients.


Providing Work-Life Balance for Veterinary Students

Fourth-year vet students must complete clinical rotations to graduate. Taking back-to-back intensive rotations can lead to fatigue and burnout even before these aspiring vets become professionals. Relief vet opportunities offer a solution.

Students can balance demanding rotations with low-stress relief vet work. This grants them a reprieve where they can gain experience while avoiding compassion fatigue.

Relief vet gigs also help students financially since rotations are unpaid. The flexibility further allows students to take time for wellness and rejuvenation between mentally taxing rotations.

Early relief vet experience better prepares students for the pace and pressures of practice. Working at different clinics, they master adapting to new settings and protocols.

Students develop the confidence and skills to thrive in a complex career where they must play many roles.


The veterinary landscape today demands flexibility and resilience from clinics to deliver exceptional care. Relief vets provide malleable staffing options to strengthen clinic operations and culture.

They balance supply with fluctuating demand, reduce burnout, fill specialist gaps, free up regular vets from administrative work, enable continuity despite staff turnover, and boost team morale.

With so many benefits for staff, patients, and the bottom line, relief vets are invaluable assets to effective, sustainable veterinary practices.

Their role will only grow as veterinary medicine advances. Clinic owners would be remiss not to actively incorporate contracted relief veterinarians into their business model. Relief vets are a win-win-win for practitioners, pets, and the veterinary community at large.


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