8 Essential Tips for Travelling Relief Veterinarians
So you want to be a Locum Relief Veterinarian…
- Own your time
Based on our research with over 850 relief or locum veterinarians around the world, these are the three primary reasons why veterinarians are choosing relief or locum work as their preferred way to earn a living and provide genuine work-life balance…of course, there are more but essentially they want to choose when and where they work, they are looking to keep on their professional toes through experiencing different hospitals and clinics and they want the power to decide when they work, when they play and when they can take some downtime to recharge.
In an ideal world wouldn’t we all like to spend three months employed by a clinic in London, four weeks exploring your favourite vacation spots in Asia, and a month working part-time in Canada followed by three months soaking in the California vibe? Or perhaps you simply want more control over your schedule so you can spend more time with your kids, conduct that research you have always been putting off or you want to be entrepreneurial. Or you might just thrive on variety, enjoy meeting fellow industry professionals or want to broaden your experience and expertise.
Whatever the reason, all is possible if you’re a professional, full-time Relief Locum Veterinarian…
Where To Start
Most experienced Relief Locum Vets have established a good idea of where they want to go, what types of practices they want to experience, and how long they want to enjoy the locum lifestyle. As a newbie, you need to do the same – knowing your Why will help lead to your How, When and Where. Understanding what’s motivating you to leave the relative security of a full-time position is also important in helping you frame your approach to becoming a Relief Locum Veterinarian.
- Is travel your primary interest?
- Do you want to augment your income with part-time work in your current city?
- Are you feeling a tad burned out, and looking to calm things down a bit with slightly simpler responsibilities?
- Do you want to learn more about working in an E&CC or mixed-practice environment?
- Is there a particular expertise or specialisation you’d like to “shadow” with an expert?
When you have a good idea of your goals, and timeline, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to set yourself up for the best outcomes. It’s good to write your motivations down somewhere safe, and then revisit them every month or so – it’s very easy to get sidetracked.
Check Your Certifications
Don’t even begin to pursue a Locum Vet career change until you’ve verified your eligibility in the state or country in which you intend to work. While you may be qualified and certified to work in Tasmania, British Columbia, Wales, or California, you’ll need to meet specific requirements in other jurisdictions. Whilst the Medical standards are mostly equivalent, each country or even State also has similar but different local rules and regulations different to what you have experienced in your home environment that you will need to qualify for, and prove that you have qualified. And the complexity of qualifying varies widely – sometimes a simple provision of certified documents of your qualifications is sufficient, but in most cases, there is some form of test, exam or interview (or all of the above) before you can start to practice. In many jurisdictions, you might not be able to practice as a Vet without qualifying locally, but your qualifications may allow you to practice as a supervised Vet Nurse.
Get Insurance Cover
You’ll want to be responsible for your own Professional Indemnity Cover to ensure that you’re consistently insured. Firstly because one clinic’s coverage likely won’t protect you against a claim filed against you six months before you arrived. Second, if you’re working consecutive short-term locum jobs, adding and removing you from each clinic’s cover is a hassle and bound to cause gaps due to paperwork processing and administrative errors. If you are planning to work internationally then you will need to get local advice as to how to get insurance cover, particularly in the USA where litigation is frequent.
Find A Reliable Accountant
Hiring someone to handle your paychecks, taxes, and retirement planning is well worth the money you’ll spend on their services – about 2% of your Relief Locum earnings is a guide. An accountant can help you decide how to set up your business and spot those deductions you might miss. As a travelling Locum Vet, you’ll be surprised by how many expenses you can claim as tax deductions. Don’t underestimate this – it’s easy to get in a mess and find yourself short of cash, or even worse, a tax audit.
Set Your Rates
A Relief Locum Vet with consistent work can make as much as 20-30% more per year than if she were to stay in a permanent position – you need to know how much to charge as a Locum Vet. Rates may vary between 20% and 35% more per hour than full-time hourly rates, and most Relief Locum Vets have a fixed “Day Rate” plus an additional hours rate when days go longer than 8 hours – make sure that you bill every billable hour. In most cases, your specialisation and experience won’t be as important as your willingness to perform some of the more mundane tasks, unusual hours and routine duties.
Regional and mixed-practice clinics typically pay more than those in large cities, because they have a more difficult time filling permanent or temporary openings. If you’re being contracted specifically to perform as the Lead Veterinarian or in any management role, you’ll want to request a higher rate again.
Before you set your rates or accept a position with a fixed compensation plan, take a close look at your own expenses and priorities, and chat with your accountant. While you’re likely to make more at a Relief Locum job, it might not be enough if you’re paying rent, meal costs or fuel whilst you travel on top of a mortgage, or you’re making higher payments on a vehicle you purchased specifically to live a more nomadic lifestyle.
You’ll also want to factor in the “downtime” in-between positions, as well as contingencies. Gigs fall through at short notice, and you likely won’t have sick pay while working as a Locum. Current demand means that you will be busy if you follow this guide, but you should budget for about 85% productivity.
Develop A Boilerplate Contract
As a travelling veterinary freelancer, you’re well within your rights to present a contract that protects your interests, rather than signing your temporary employers’ contract. Either way, you’ll want to make clear—in writing—your fees, the dates of your obligation, the scope of your Locum Vet duties and responsibilities, and how (or if) you’ll be compensated for travel and housing. You’ll also want to specify responsibility for liability, as well as setting the frequency and method of payment, typically weekly, and sometimes in advance or at least a deposit against cancellation.
All contracts are subject to customisation. If your employer insists on using theirs, assert your right to make changes.
One of the benefits of a career as a travelling Relief Locum Vet is learning to live a streamlined, “pick up and go” lifestyle. Whether you’re looking for temporary employment during a sabbatical from your regular position or making a full-time career out of short-term work, organisation is imperative to preserving your sanity and optimising your efficiency.
If you’re supplementing your hours with part-time work at a clinic across town, you’ll still want to have a system to keep everything in order.
Paperwork: Keep ALL your documents and certifications together in a waterproof, fireproof file box as well as scan them to an online storage location such as Dropbox, and remain disciplined in putting things where they need to be. If you’re on the road, it never hurts to keep scanned copies on a secure cloud server, and in a portable hard drive. If important documents are lost or stolen, it’s more of a hassle to get official copies when you’re moving from place to place.
Build your vet kit: Keep your exam gloves, stethoscope, apparel, and other personal work items separate from the rest of your luggage. If you’re working locally, consider keeping a duplicate kit specifically for your relief work, especially if the clinic has its own dress code.
Minimise your belongings: You might not have as much room to store your stuff as you’d like, and if you’re travelling with the purpose of taking advantage of recreational opportunities, it’s a good idea to take what you need and rent the rest. You never know when a favoured Locum Vet position will pop up across the continent or interstate, so you’ll want to be ready to go without calling a moving service or resurrecting Hannibal’s army to carry your kit to your destination.
Put Yourself On The Market
How are you going to find the ideal locum positions? How will clinics find you? If you want to target specific practices, locations, or specialities, you’ll need to be proactive.
- Build a resume specific to locum work
- Register with Relief Locum websites and Apps such as VetLocumotion to maintain your schedule and availability as well as source new work
- Draft cover letters tailored to individual clinics in your target area
- Register with a recruiting firm catering to veterinary professionals
- Create an account with a veterinary job search website
- Join some Social Media groups that network and chat about Relief Locum work
- Ask colleagues to spread the word when you (or they) are at conferences or workshops
- Consider collaborating with another Relief Locum vet professional as a “package deal”; some clinics are run by couples that want to get away together, or that may want to send multiple staff to conferences or training programs, so having a double act can be handy
- Collect references and online endorsements and site link LinkedIn or Facebook at every opportunity
Put down those hot glowing irons. We’re not talking about that kind of branding (unless you are Locumming on a cattle ranch). If you’re going to make a go of Relief Veterinary work as the next step in your career, you might want to invest in a marketing campaign that sets you up as an ideal candidate and prompts potential employers to reach out to you. Here are some ideas:
- Build a website: An online site allows you to link to your information when you e-mail inquiries to prospective clinics. You might have a calendar page that keeps track of your availability, a biography page to help employers better identify with you, and an outline of your experience. Use discretion on the amount of personal information you post online, and consider using a contact form to avoid your e-mail account being clogged with spam. Try Wix or Squarespace.
- Write about your experiences: Keep a blog or submit essays to vet magazines and websites. You’ll make a name for yourself and upgrade your reputation (in marketing terms, this is called brand authority or industry thought leadership). You’ll obviously want to avoid negative comments about past employers, but when you use creative marketing through editorial channels, you can enhance your resume and your exposure.
- Social Media: Join a few key Social Media groups that can help your visibility and act as a referral network; be active once a week or so
- Create a contact list: Personal phone calls or letters are always best, but one way or another, you’ll want to keep your name present in the minds of your target clinics. Send personalised e-mails with attachments, such as your resume in PDF form, and links to your website. Don’t be generic; address your correspondence to the clinic’s decision-makers, and do your homework in advance.
And Always Be Professional
Clinics want to make sure they’re hiring someone who will step in and seamlessly perform their duties. Be professional, concise, and responsive in your communication. Be neat and tidy in your appearance. Prepare to be flexible, and to stretch your skills…and park your ego. Be willing to take on tasks you’d otherwise delegate to more junior team members, and build a reputation as an easy-going but diligent and organised temporary Team Member.
You need a buffer. A financial buffer that is equivalent to three months living expenses – which is a sensible thing to do anyway. Why? Early on in your Locum Relief journey, you won’t have the experience to know how work will flow which has the potential to make you take the first job that comes your way, and the next and the next…and pretty soon you will be under self-imposed pressure…and uncertainty. Also, by accepting every locum job that comes to you, you won’t be able to manage your income and maximise your potential earnings. You will get plenty of work. But having that buffer allows you the comfort and peace of mind to know that if you happen not to be busy next week, that’s OK. And then, of course, if a pandemic happens to come along, you will be OK too.
Who knows? With the right mindset and these guidelines, being a Relief Locum Vet may well provide you with the flexibility, variety and control of your time that you have been looking for in the next phase of your career.
* Relief Veterinarians in the USA and Canada – Locum Veterinarians in the UK, Australia, NZ and parts of Asia – Relief Locum elsewhere
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