Podcast #7

Helicopter flying through burning forest with fire-fighter and civilian hanging.
Due to the staffing crisis in veterinary medicine, and due to the high levels of burn-out and compassion fatigue, more and more vets are moving to relief work, and more and more clinics are needing relief vets. When you are a locum/relief vet you are coming into a clinic that is burning, and they need you to help put out the fires.

It is very important when you choose to be a locum/relief vet, that you KICK ASS while you are doing it! Not only for your own self-worth and satisfaction, but to do your part for the veterinary community. You are a reflection of the clinic that hired you, and you should do your best to represent them to your best possible ability!

KICK ASS VETS will count down the top 10 ways for you to be a KICK ASS veterinary locum for the clinics where you work:
Smiling Quokka
Be the face that when you walk into the clinic, everyone is happy to see you and can’t help but smile!
When clinics need to hire locums it is often because they are in a bind, and are stuck. This usually means staff are stressed. Being a positive and smiling/friendly face will not only soften the blow of having to hire a locum, which most clinics resent, but will help relieve the stress of those around you. Also, by bringing a sense of positivity to the clinic, you will increase your chances of being used in the future, and the clinic staff will be happier to help you with those clinic specific things like making estimates, or where equipment is kept.
It is important that you present yourself to every clinic you work for, and more importantly their clients, as professional and informed. Clients like to see ‘their vet’, they don’t want to see someone else. Therefore, your appearance and demeanour is even more important! It is part of your job as a locum to make the clients feel comfortable with the vet that the clinic has chosen to hire in their absence, as it is a reflection on the clinic.
As a locum, you might enter into a clinic where a surgery/procedure is scheduled in which you have no experience. This can happen either due to a last minute hire when another vet was scheduled, or due to a mis-communication regarding your capabilities. It is important to communicate well with your potential clinics about your level of skills with procedures/surgeries so they can schedule appropriately.

Also, it is important that you do not pursue a surgery/procedure with which you have NO skill or experience, especially if the result could be catastrophic if you failed. Rescheduling upsets owners, so if it is something small then you should be adaptable (see point 6), however you should not try your first ever ‘specialized’ surgery at a clinic, especially when the animal is stable and the surgery could be performed at another time.
As a locum, you are being hired to be a representation of that clinic for the day. This means that you need to support their business, both in how you discuss the abilities/environment of the clinic, as well as financially.

It is imperative that you ESTIMATE and CHARGE APPROPRIATELY despite what your personal feelings are towards what costs/fees should be. If you are unsure at all, ASK about estimates. One huge problem that clinics have with locums is that they don’t estimate or charge appropriately. This results in the clinic either ending up with an upset client, or absorbing the difference in true cost vs. estimated cost, which results in the clinic being ‘out’ financially from paying a locum as well as ‘out’ the income they should have received from that procedure. This is unfair to the clinic.
Bra with spots and dog print.
Just like a good bra , (or this bra because they are cute!) as a locum you should be SUPPORTING the clinic where you are working, professionally, emotionally and financially.
It is also important that you support the business in regards to it’s ‘Good Will’. Do not talk down, or belittle the clinic. Be a positive advocate of the clinic! If you feel it is not practicing medicine appropriately, or feel it is not a good place to work, don’t work there! If a clinic is very bad to work for, and you are talking in confidence to other vets that are considering working there, then yes, we need to be honest, but we should not be broadcasting or belittling the clinic to clients or on social media. If you have a significant problem, speak with the boss/manager of that clinic.

It also goes without saying, that you are working for another clinic, therefore unless you have an agreement with that clinic you should NOT be promoting any self-business or clinic. You are an agent of the clinic where you are working, and should not be trying to ‘steal’ or ‘poach’ clients. If you have a unique service that the clinic doesn’t offer then you should discuss with the clinic ahead of time if it is OK for you to advertise yourself.
As a locum, a skill you will need to master is that of adaptability. Every clinic will be a little different, will use different computer systems or the same computer system differently, will have a different level of medicine, and different equipment. You will need to be open to these variabilities and quick to change your plan if you don’t have what you thought you needed.

It is a good idea to try to get used to any computer system you may use prior to your shift, whether that means watching a quick tutorial online prior to your shift, or showing up 20min early to play around to get to use it. This is part of your job as a locum to be able to use different computer systems, and not a clinics responsibility to pay for you to learn a new system. (If you are a full time employee then yes, training is part of the job, but not as a locum). Ask and write down what their vaccine/worming protocols are, so that you are giving consistent information to clients.

It will be important for you, as a locum, to work with the tools that your clinic has, and be able to figure out ways to perform great medicine, within the limits of the clinic. Even with minimal equipment you can perform Evidence Based Medicine .
KICK ASS locums are able to work well with others. As a locum you are entering the ‘house’ of the other staff, and often are met with resistance from staff to help or trust you. It is important to understand that the staff are stressed and under pressure, and the last thing they want to do is ‘train’ and help someone, when they are already behind on their work. Be nice and try to show the staff that you are there to help, to work hard, and there to make their day easier. If you have a free minute, help with the laundry or make them a tea/coffee. Be friendly and nice to everyone, and don’t become aggressive or defensive if you are met with resistance. Also, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Locums that are mean to staff, hard to work with, gossip or cause drama, are not locums that get rehired.
Since, as a locum, you are new to the clinics and therefore staff and clients, it is very important to recognize that no-one will just ‘know’ what you mean. You don’t have the benefit of staff or clients understanding half-communicated thoughts, or intentions, as you can have when you have been working with someone for years. Therefore, as a locum, you must have excellent communication. This refers to communication with both staff and clients. With staff it is important to explicitly describe anything you want done, especially if it is important it is done a certain way, because if you don’t tell people what you want/need, how will they know how to do it right? Writing down clear lists of instructions is helpful as well.

With clients, since you not only have to be a good representation of the clinic but you also have to gain the trust of the clients, it is incredibly important to have excellent communication. It is important to be able to demonstrate your knowledge, and also to have effective conversations that lead to appropriate care of their pet. This results in maintaining the Good Will of the clinic where you are working, but also leads to being financially valuable to your clinic. (See How to be a Valuable KICK ASS VET for more information)
Old vinyl record playing with record.
Having excellent, complete, and detailed records is important for any vet, but especially important to be a KICK ASS Locum!
Locums come and go, and often it is impossible to get follow up information, or clarification of any information from that locum. Since many cases in clinical practice are on-going, or require follow up of some description, it is incredibly important that everyone, but especially locums, have excellent records. You should ensure that you have records that are detailed enough that any question someone might have pertaining to that case can be answered by looking through the records. Here is an example KICK ASS Template for Medical Record : feel free to use this as a skeleton and copy/paste/modify as needed. Ensure you are recording all conversations on finances, estimates, owner limitations, and also what was offered/discussed so the next vet knows what was previously offered and declined as well as exactly what was done. Also, it is important to record what the plan is for any ongoing care, follow up, or next steps for treatment.
As a locum, you are being hired when clinics are struggling and NEED the staff. You aren’t being hired as an ‘extra hand’. Therefore it is imperative that you SHOW UP. Always be on time, and always be reliable. If for some reason you need to cancel, give as much possible notice as you can. Try not to cancel, as if you cancel you will not only put a stressed clinic at a higher stress level, but you will also get a ‘mark’ as being unreliable. If you cancel, ensure it is for a good reason, and communicate that to the clinic so they can understand your situation, and know it won’t be an ongoing event.

It is also important to ensure that you have the correct details, as sometimes there can be miscommunications regarding time/date/hours of employment.
As a locum you are being hired when clinics are struggling for staff, therefore you will need to be able to comfortable with sole charge, comfortable working independently and you need to be effective and efficient. You need to work hard to get the work done. You should be ensuring you are helping the clinic as best as you can every moment you are employed so that the clinics are ‘getting their money’s worth’.
Bee on a flower.
When you are locuming, ensure you are working and keeping busy as a bee the whole time you are on shift!
KICK ASS VETS always work hard and work their best, and this is especially important when you are a locum. If your work is done but you are still on the clock, help where you can. Help mopping, help with laundry, or help by creating protocols, templates or handouts. Be the best possible help you can be to every clinic you enter!
This blog focuses on how to be a KICK ASS locum to your employer. By being valuable and amazing to your employer, they will be more likely to hire you, and less likely to despise/resent locums which happens all too often in our profession. By working hard and KICKING ASS as a locum, you will also be part of the solution to the community of veterinarians, full-time and locum together, so that we can all progress the profession!

KICK ASS VETS also discusses KICK ASS Tips for Veterinary Relief Locums which is focussed on tips for the locum themselves.

Do you have any other tips or suggestions on how to be a KICK ASS Locum? Are you a clinic that has any suggestions that you want to share for locums to be the best help possible to your clinic? Contact Us with any comments, questions or suggestions!

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 September 23rd, 2019

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

Most Recent Blogs
KICK ASS Boundaries for Locums
Locuming can leave you just as stressed and exhausted as full-time work, if you don't set the right boundaries!
Imposter Syndrome
Chances are you will experience Imposter Syndrome in your career, so tackle it head on!
KICK ASS Confidence
Confidence is knowing that you cannot know everything, and new/recent graduates need to know this!
Stay In Touch With Kick Ass Vets