How To Achieve a Low-Stress Locum Relief Life
Locum relief work can alleviate some of the stressors associated with permanent positions, whilst still allowing veterinarians, nurses and vet techs to perform the clinical work they enjoy. Many veterinarians, nurses and vet techs have considered moving to locum relief work to experience all the financial and lifestyle benefits it can potentially offer. If you’re ready to make the leap to locum work, check out our practical tips for achieving the ultimate “Low-stress, Fear-Free” locum relief lifestyle – no Feliway required!…
The joys of locum work
Working as an independent contractor, you’ll have complete roster autonomy. Once you’ve calculated your monthly, quarterly or annual income requirements, you’ll have flexibility working within these guidelines, accepting only shifts that suit your schedule and taking days off as needed. This can be invaluable for working parents, allowing you to plan holidays in sync with school holiday periods. It can also facilitate the pursuit of other hobbies, as you can plan early finishes or time off as required (without any negotiation with clinic managers or other staff members). This means you can switch off and enjoy your non-veterinary life too.
Many locums enjoy the fact that they can feel less emotionally burdened by the interpersonal issues that can come hand-in-hand with permanent positions. As a locum, you can arrive, perform the agreed-upon work and head on home, without getting dragged into any staff politics along the way. You will also find that those super needy, intense clients won’t be able to latch onto you long-term, as you’ll be moving on. As they say, a rolling stone gathers no moss. No moss, no fuss (sorry about that one!).
Lastly, locum work can also be financially rewarding. Not only can locums charge higher rates compared to full-timers (with some “last-minute” locums making double or even triple full-time rates), but they also are made to feel very welcome within busy teams. With increasing pressure on veterinary teams due to increasing pet numbers and demand for high-quality veterinary services, you’ll be highly valued not just for your professional skills, but often just for your general cheery presence.
Potential stressors of locum work, and how to manage them
Let’s be honest: the veterinary industry can be stressful. Despite its perks, locum work can bring its own particular stressors too, largely related to performing your own professional administration and always being the new kid at the clinic. Here’s how to navigate and minimise potential locum-related issues, so you can feel the locum lifestyle love.
Many locums find it hard to determine and negotiate their market value, although this does get easier as you become more experienced within the locum field. When starting out, it’s best to gather locum rates information from local online veterinary forums, such as regional veterinary Facebook groups or sites such as VETERINARYlocumotion. It may also help to check out relevant locum agency ads to get an idea of the going rates in your area, although bear in mind that these can be variable and sometimes skewed in favour of the employer.
As a general guideline, you should be earning at least 25% more than an equivalent permanent veterinarian (to account for your lack of sick days or vacation pay). However, you’ll also need to earn enough to offset your locum-specific expenses, such as professional insurances, licenses and accounting fees. Experienced locums should generally expect to earn 1.5-2x more than a permanent vet in the equivalent role, with last-minute locum shifts being the most lucrative.
Work shift uncertainty can make it difficult to plan and fulfil other life commitments. Therefore, many established locums prefer to work on a pre-booked, semi-regular basis for known clinics, accepting slightly lower rates than last-minute locums in return for greater certainty. Or you can Subscribe to a platform such as VETERINARYlocumotion and receive a regular “feed” of available shifts for your particular skills in geographic areas that you would like to work.
Regardless of what routine you follow, try to be as organised as you can about the shifts you do take. Have clinics confirm prospective shifts in writing, including dates, pay rates, any overtime involved, and any included allowances. It’s also helpful to enquire in advance about practicalities such as the best parking location and the clinic dress code.
New day – new clinic
To enjoy locum work, you should have a certain degree of clinical experience and confidence. After all, it is a challenge to regularly walk into an unknown clinic, and immediately start pulling your weight. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on where equipment is kept, or how the clinic-specific scheduling or charging works. Good clinics can really help you out by scheduling at least your first few shifts with an experienced staff member who can show you around.
It is recommended that vets have at least two years of experience before beginning locum work and that nurses and vet techs be qualified with at least one year of in-clinic experience. This will allow you to be familiar and competent with common hospital routines and tasks so that all you have to adjust to is the new environment and team, rather than the work itself.
However, as well as feeling confident, you should aim to project an aura of confidence and professionalism to help you earn the trust of new clients (and any potentially prickly staff members!). Even if you’re feeling a bit unsure, it’s best to “fake it until you become it”, and try to exude calm confidence. Preparation is key here – it’s really helpful if the clinic manager can give you a heads-up about any notable cases you will be seeing on your first day, so you can swot up in advance on VIN or textbooks if required. From then on, it’s best to have a quick look at the schedule for what’s on the next day, so you have time to read up on any relevant patient clinical notes if possible.
Obviously, no vet, nurse, or vet tech is perfect. However, if there are any aspects of practice that you are not comfortable with, such as surgery, you need to discuss this with the hiring clinic in advance, so they can manage bookings appropriately. At the same time, let them know your particular strengths, so they can direct these cases to you and benefit from your expertise.
Lastly, clients will be more likely to accept a new face if they are given an early heads-up (and vote of confidence) regarding your presence. Clinics can help veterinary locums out by letting clients know in advance that they will be seeing “Our visiting colleague Dr [insert name]”, so there are no surprises when you enter the consulting room.
Unfortunately, locum shifts can be pretty busy. Clinics are paying high rates for your help for a reason – they are either trying to relieve pressure on current staff or allow permanent staff some well-earned time off. Your job is to keep the wheels turning in the clinic, and hopefully keep turning a profit at the same time.
However, there is, unfortunately, the perception at some clinics that as locums charge higher rates than permanent staff, the clinic should get their money’s worth by excessively loading up the locum. Whilst it’s reasonable for a clinic to expect you to stay busy, you may wish to discuss with them in advance that you expect at least a short daily lunch break, and that you will charge overtime rates for any after-hours work. This will help ensure that you work under reasonable conditions or at least get paid well for your efforts.
If a clinic encourages poor working conditions by consistently overbooking you, the good news is that as a locum, you have the power to complete your commitment to them and then leave. Rarely, locums may have to break their commitment and walk away early from highly problematic clinics to send a strong message (and preserve their mental and physical health), but it’s best to reserve this for if there is a serious issue, as it otherwise could affect your reputation as a reliable locum.
New staff members
Regularly meeting new like-minded veterinary vets, nurses and vet techs can be great for making professional connections, learning new treatments and protocols, and making friendships. However, unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone will gel with you and your particular working style.
Professional competence and confidence will naturally help in these situations, as you will have a good idea of your role and the roles of other staff members around you.
An awareness of DISC profiles can also help you to interact more effectively with particular individuals. For instance, if you identify that a particular staff member has a strong D (Dominance) component to their personality (who hasn’t worked with a bit of a D..?), you can then aim to communicate with them concisely and factually, summarising just “the big picture” unless they ask for more detail.
If you work as an independent contractor, you will have to perform a lot of the professional-related administration tasks that a practice manager would often do for you (or at least prod you to sort out). For starters, you’ll need to organise your own professional indemnity/liability insurance and health/life insurance policies and ensure you are consistently up to date with any relevant licenses, such as your radiation license.
You will also need to set up your business, invoice for your time, claim business expenses, pay taxes, and sort out your own 401k/pension/superannuation contributions. It’s recommended to consult an accountant who is knowledgeable about veterinary locum work, so they can guide you as to the most tax-efficient way to practice.
If you can be informed and stay organised, locum relief work can be a way for experienced veterinarians, nurses, and vet techs to truly achieve the Low-stress, Fear-Free work-life balance that they’re seeking. So, lean into the locum lifestyle, and you too could be a happy cat, er, we mean vet!
- Locum vets: the pros and cons – 19 April 2021 – https://vetpracticemag.com.au/locum-vets-the-pros-and-cons/ – Read 3 March 2022
- The pros and cons of locuming – 6 January 2016 – https://jobs.vettimes.co.uk/article/the-pros-and-cons-of-locuming – Read 3 March 2022
- Kick Ass Tips for Veterinary Relief Locums – 23 September 2019 – https://www.kickassvets.com/blogs/blogTipsForLocums.php – Read 3 March 2022
- Evaluate Your Worth: Experienced Veterinarian – 20 July 2019 – https://www.kickassvets.com/blogs/blogEYWExp.php – Read 3 March 2022
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