Podcast #11

bobble-head of the Joker from Batman.
Like every great super-hero movie, villains and heroes create the need for one another. The same is true of the locum market. Clinics have created their own ‘villian’ in the locum. Also true of super-hero movies, both parties consider themselves the hero, and the other party the villain.
Clinics Perception of Locums:
Clinics see locums as the villain, as the evil vet that is taking advantage of the poor clinic that is struggling to survive. They feel they are the hero that is trying to save the animals, and help the clients, and are sacrificing everything to keep the profession going. They are the hero, and the locums are the villain trying to run them out of business due to greed.
Locums Perception of Clinics and the Industry:
Locums view clinics as unable to change and adapt, and unable to meet their needs. Some locums see the clinics as villains for taking advantage of associate vets and staff and not providing the required environment or compensation. These locums consider themselves the heroes for advocating for themselves.

More often though, locums don’t consider themselves as anything, but see an opportunity to better their lives and they take it. They see the industry as the villain, including clinics as well as clients, colleagues, working environments and conditions, etc.
How Locums are Born:
Baby elephant
Every thing, every being, every job starts somewhere. The locum vet job, and especially the current ‘locum crisis’, was born from the current veterinary climate.
Locums become locums for many reasons, but they all stem from being unhappy with their current employment. There is a saying, “people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers”. This is true for most locums.

There are reasons that vets become locums that are independent of what clinics can control such as needing complete freedom of shifts due to other life commitments, or as a stepping stone between various career options, or due to needing an bit of extra cash.

However, a large part of the reasons that vets become locums are due to factors that clinics can control:

1. COMPENSATION: Many locums’ tales begin by asking for a raise that is completely appropriate and fair, which is denied for many reasons (see Clinic Smoke Screens ). The vet then quits, and often ends up locuming for that very business for significantly more than they asked for as a raise.

Sometimes this tale also comes with a promise of a raise for various reasons, such as after a period of time or added education or responsibilities, which is then denied for one reason or another. This lie, this unfulfilled promise after an associate has ‘done their part’, is a common push to locum. Clinics push their vets to quit by not paying appropriately, by not fulfilling their end of a financial bargains.

Also, when a vet is working, and they have a locum come in, without the responsibilities and stresses of working at a clinic long-term and they are being paid DOUBLE/hr, it is hard for that vet to stay motivated and not feel ‘ripped off’. It makes it worse when clinics then argue that a raise cannot be given because they need to pay the locums and it’s ‘not in the budget’. This gives no motivation to the employee to stay as a full-time position, because obviously the clinics are not prioritizing keep their full time employees.

WHAT CAN CLINICS DO?: Clinics have the opportunity to keep their vets, and keep them at a ‘lower than locum’ rate as most vets wish to have stability in a job, but it means that they need to pay a rate that makes it ‘worth it’ to the vet.

Clinics need to put their full-time employees first, give them what they need financially to stay. They need to look at the bigger picture which is that keeping full-time employees is GOOD FOR BUSINESS, and is worth a ‘hit’ in the budget. Clinics, especially larger corporations that are refusing to pay appropriate rates, end up paying WAY MORE to locums and recruitment agencies and training of new staff, not to mention loss of revenue when locums and new employees don’t charge appropriately.

Clinics need to put their full-time employees first! Pay appropriately! Discuss and evaluate how associate vets can be valuable, and compensate them fairly. Also, deliver on promises! If a raise is promised, make it happen!

WHAT CAN VETS DO?: Be VALUABLE to your clinic, ensure you are pulling your weight and being the best possible employee you can. An important part of this is to advocate for yourself. Make sure you are keeping track of your progress, and determine your worth, and talk to your boss about being paid appropriately. Also, give your boss a chance to meet your needs before jumping ship. Be specific and show your boss exactly why you deserve the raise you are asking for. If you want help preparing for this conversation check out our KICK ASS Consulting for help.

seedling growing up
Veterinarians require stimulation, and opportunities for professional growth to remain satisfied in their job.
One of the main reasons that veterinarians leave clinics is that they feel stagnant, and have no room for professional growth. Clinics have the responsibility of providing staff with opportunity and ability to pursue personal career goals. Often vets don’t even see or recognize that this is part of their dissatisfaction. Good managers, good business owners, are able to anticipate the needs of their staff. Having regular Performance Reviews where personal growth is not only discussed, but encouraged (or enforced) is important. Both the clinics and the vets need to push for this growth, and clinics need to be supporting this.

Clinics however often miss the mark on this opportunity. Either there isn’t ‘room in the budget’ for CE, or even if CE is pursued when vets come back and try to implement their new knowledge they are hit with resistance. Resistance from staff to change, resistance of bosses to get on board, resistance from clients to accept a different plan.
light bulb that is cracked and burning out
Professional ‘energy’ is a limited resource. If an employee is burned out from day-to-day overwork, then there is no room or energy for new thoughts or ideas.
Another point that clinics/bosses often miss that that each person only has so much ‘professional energy’. This is a limited resource. When someone is burned out, when they are over-worked and stressed, they don’t have the emotional capacity to even think about learning something new. Managers and clinic owners need to ensure that their staff isn’t over-worked, isn’t at the point of compassion fatigue, so that staff have the emotional capacity to learn new things.

WHAT CAN CLINICS DO?: Have Performance Reviews at least yearly, where continued education and professional growth is addressed, encouraged +/- enforced. Have any CE courses or opportunities followed up by a presentation by that participant to the rest of the clinic, so that everyone can be on board and help the clinic progress. Make it evident that your clinic is one that values progression and continued growth, and make your staff (nurses, vets, reception, everyone) part of that process.

WHAT CAN VETS DO?: ASK for performance reviews. ASK for continued education. ASK to be able to implement all new knowledge. Determine for yourself WHAT you need, and bring that to your boss. Give your boss the opportunity to meet your needs.
KICK ASS VETS feel that all vets should be critically evaluating if they can find happiness in their current position (see blog on Considerations Before You Quit ), before quitting. You can wait for your boss to be amazing, or you can TAKE CONTROL and make changes yourself! In this veterinary industry, where managers and bosses are often not educated or trained on how to be managers/bosses, sometimes we as employees have to drive the ship. Do your part by telling your boss what you need, and give them the chance to make it happen!

Schedule is very important! Especially in today’s world where work-life balance is now encouraged and accepted. People have lives outside of work, they have families, they have commitments, hobbies and interests. Especially in the veterinary industry where a large number of employees are female, meaning that they are often balancing being a mother and running a house-hold, with trying to be a professional with some independent identity. This means that schedule is imperative, and scheduling needs are different for each individual staff member. Some require flexibility, some require consistency, but all require something!

Clinics often let staff down when it comes to scheduling. Especially clinics that are understaffed or are trying to find staff, schedules are often published late, or changed frequently. Often clinics will move around their full-time staff to fit the needs of locums, and this leads to full-time staff getting second choice of schedule. Clinics will also often have their full-time staff work longer hours, over-time and over-work to fill these vacancies.

Schedule is also very important in terms of having a routine in both life and work-day, a good sleep schedule, and to be able to handle hiccups in life. Schedule is incredibly important when trying to control STRESS and ANXIETY in life. Also, having a good schedule and one that is consistent and followed, helps with work environment and conditions, and it can help tackle the burn-out and compassion fatigue that exists.

WHAT CAN CLINICS DO?: Get to know your staff, figure out what is important and what isn’t. Make your schedule well ahead of time and have something consistent that your staff can plan around. Even if you have gaps in your schedule, don’t wait to fill everything to inform your staff. Also, make sure the schedule that you have your staff work is realistic and won’t cause burn-out. Avoid stretches that are too long, ensure no short ‘turn-arounds’. Managing your schedule well is a huge step in managing the work environment and conditions in your clinic, and will drastically decrease the stress and anxiety that your staff feel. 

WHAT CAN VETS DO?: Everyone’s schedule needs are different. Ensure you have a conversation with your boss about your needs. Make your needs known, because if you don’t tell your manager or boss what you need, they can’t read your mind! Discuss your ability or inability to work overtime, and what that means to you. If you are willing to work it, make sure the clinic is compensating your appropriately for overtime! If you feel you are burning out, or hitting a point where more work will push you over the edge, ensure you are being honest with yourself, and your boss, and don’t allow yourself to over-work. Your mental health is YOUR responsibility! Ensure you are looking after yourself!
Let's Get Personal
I was once in a meeting with a clinic, asking for the umpteenth time, to have a set, consistent schedule that I could plan around, could count on. The reply from my manager was “well we have to work around the locums’ needs, because they tell us what shifts they can work”. My response was “Well how about I just tell you what shifts I can work?”.

I do understand a clinic’s needs, and understand that in order to fill the shifts they required staff to be flexible and move them around, however when you are at the point of burn-out and telling this to your manager/boss, and they clearly are not prioritizing full-time staff, this is a problem.

The clinic I now work for prioritizes their full time staff and consistent workers, and ensures the schedule is out ahead of time, and fills in the blanks as they go. This creates a much better work environment, stability, and a life you can plan around. It also shows that the clinic prioritizes their full-time staff.
So, how are locums born, summarized…
Locum/relief vets usually end up in their position because they have become burned-out or hit their compassion fatigue wall with industry and said “This isn’t working for me”. Vets become locums because they are fed up, they are disenchanted with the environment, the unfulfilled promises, and the lack of proper compensation with full-time employment in the clinics they have experienced. They have lost faith that ANY clinic would be able to provide them what they need.

Clinics create the locum by not providing for their needs, not being good managers, not providing opportunities for growth, and not providing a good work environment. Locums feel they have no other choice but to leave full-time employment to get what they need. 

“People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers”.
Clinics have created the locum by not fulfilling the needs of their full-time employess, and by the same logic they have the ability to eliminate the need of the locum by getting, and retaining, full time employees!
Do you have any comments or questions about this blog? Are you a locum that wants to share why you became a locum, or what clinics could do/could have done to keep you as a full time vet? Are you a clinic that wants to comment/question the ideas in this blog? Contact Us at any time to continue the conversation!

Do you think locuming/relief work might be for you but you aren’t sure if you should make the leap? KICK ASS Consulting can help you determine if locuming is a good life choice for you!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published October 20, 2019

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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