Setting Yourself Up for Relief Work

Tosha K. Starke, DVM, All Four Paws Veterinary Relief, Manassas, Virginia

Kathy Wainwright, DVM, Capital Area Veterinary Services, Arlington, Virginia

Lance M. Roasa, DVM, MS, JD, The Roasa Law Group, Raymond, Nebraska

Michelle D. Krasicki-Aune, MBA, BS, CVT, Vet Teams, Coon Rapids, Minnesota

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Setting Yourself Up for Relief Work

Relief services are a thriving segment of the veterinary profession. Hiring a relief veterinarian allows associates and practice owners to be away from the practice knowing their patients are cared for and clients have access to needed services. Working relief comes with benefits and challenges that are different from standard clinical practice, and opportunities exist for both veterinarians and veterinary nurses. We explore several of the many facets of veterinary relief work.

Relief Work: One Veterinarian’s Personal Path

Kathy Wainwright, DVM, Capital Area Veterinary Services, Arlington, Virginia

Veterinarians are fortunate to have versatile degrees that allow them to work in several capacities including with horses, in drug research, with cats only, or in public health. Another avenue many veterinarians consider at some point in their career is relief work. It may be during a transition between long-term jobs, exploring a new location before making a commitment, or even as a permanent career. Those who try relief work, either short- or long-term, usually find it beneficial.

I chose to step into relief work when my life was at a time of transition. The practice where I had been working was sold, which caused a lot of change. I entered relief work with a high level of anxiety and not knowing what to expect. I worried: Will there be enough work? Will I be able to cover my monthly expenses? Will I be able to adapt to a different schedule every week? Will I feel comfortable with the culture, protocols, and policies of each practice where I might work?

I also had to consider and critically evaluate the different options available (ie, work with a relief service, venture out on my own, become a a semipermanent staff veterinarian at a practice needing someone 1 to 2 days a week).

To help alleviate this stress, I recommend assessing 2 areas before considering relief work.


Financial Considerations

Do you feel comfortable with the potential financial changes and will your household finances be able to sustain the uncertainties of relief work?

When I started relief work my spouse had a stable job with health insurance benefits that covered us both. We were renting an apartment, and although we wanted to save money for a down payment on a house, we were not in a time commitment nor did we feel the routine pressure of home ownership. Also, we lived near many veterinary school alumni who could serve as potential clients. These circumstances helped the transition feel a little less daunting financially.

Give serious thought to your financial circumstances and personal budget. Sit down, make a budget, and determine where you stand financially. Will you be able to pay your bills, loans, and health insurance if you cannot find work for a few months? You may need a consistent full-time associate position, part-time work, or to join a relief service as a more stable alternative. You may also be ready to go solo.


Professional Demands

Can you adapt to the demands of veterinary relief?

Relief work requires a huge degree of flexibility day-to-day and a willingness to acclimate to different surroundings. Some days I work mornings; other days I work nights or the swing shift. When I step into a practice I must mesh with the practice culture and client base. Each practice has different medications in inventory and sedation protocols. I have to quickly learn medical record programs and interact well with different personality types.

Communication is critical in order to have positive experiences and feel comfortable relying on each practice’s team. Learning and adapting to the practice’s culture and understanding the expectations of each practice’s team members, clients, and owners is important.


I have been happy over the past 3.5 years since I entered into relief work. I have the freedom to be my own boss and can plan around important events with family and friends. However, even with that flexibility, I am always and will always be at the mercy of the needs of local veterinary practices. Think about it and if you feel confident—take the leap.


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