Podcast #10

In this veterinary world, especially in the current climate of terrible mental health rates, high burn-out, compassion fatigue and suicide rates, it is important that we all support one another and all focus on our mental health!
Kangaroo in boxing gloves with a human knocked out behind in a boxing ring.
Vets fighting and criticizing eachother is an unfortunate reality in today's veterinary profession
Unfortunately however, all too often we are NOT supportive of one another. Instead we criticize and cut eachother down. General practitioners vs. emergency/referral teams, locums vs. full time, associates vs. bosses, clinic vs. clinic, 'old school' vs. 'new medicine'. The divisions are endless. Veterinarians need to stop criticizing and attacking one another, and instead try to see eachother's perspective. We need to come together to find solutions to the common goal of saving animals, and progressing the profession.

A current 'crisis' in the veterinary industry involves locums or relief vets. Locums are attacked on many fronts, and most recently, and what sparked this blog, was another veterinary group commenting “Hope you all have a great holiday, except for those thieving locums.”
Criticisms of Locums:
Locum/Relief vets receive a lot of criticism. KICK ASS VETS will address these criticisms and shed some light on the motives and perspectives of the locums, hoping to bring and end to the hate that locums receive:
Locums are accused of charging rates that are 'inappropriately high' and 'taking advantage of clinics in a bind.'

Locums set their rates based on what they feel is fair, appropriate and achievable in a given location. These rates are based on their financial needs, and what is 'worth it' to them to work. If a rate is set higher than the going average rate, it is because the locum either feels that the going average rate is too low, or they would rather not work at all than work at a lower rate.

Clinics have the choice on which locum they will hire, and how much they will pay for a rate. This means that locum rates are determined based on the 'free-market' and are subject to supply and demand. This means that if a locum is charging 'too much', the clinics will have the option of hiring a different locum at a lower rate. Also, if it was not financially viable to clinics to pay the rates the locums are charging, they would choose to NOT hire the locum and instead work themselves, or not have a vet for that day. By nature of locum rates being determined by the 'market', and clinics having complete control over if they will hire a locum or not, the rates cannot be 'inappropriately high', because then other vets would work for less, or clinics would say 'no'.

Also, locums/relief vets aren't 'taking advantage' of clinics, they just have their own personal cut off of what is 'worth it'. This 'worth it' value will vary depending on the availiability of work, individual financial needs, how nice a clinic is to work for, and current burn-out level. Many locums, and vets, are at the point of burn-out already, and for these vets the 'worth-it' value will be higher. So, the locums aren't 'taking advantage' of the clinics, they are just determining their own levels of what is 'worth-it'.

Clinics may argue 'we don't have a choice, we are stuck paying the high locum rates', or 'we don't have a choice, there is only one vet available and they demand a certain rate'.
Well, you do have a choice, LEAVE'EM: Don't hire locums if you feel the rates are too high. If the rates really are too high supply/demand will decrease the rate that locums will be willing to work for. Also, increase your exposure. One benefit of Vet Locum List to clinics is that with greater exposure to more locums, the rates will 'settle' at the fair market, as you will have more options for filling your shifts.

OR, even BETTER, make your clinic one that doesn't require locums frequently. Keep your full-time staff happy, so that your need for locums doesn't exist. Pay your full-time staff better, create better work environments, improve the efficiency of your business. Make your clinic desirable and you will retain staff, and not need the locums!
When you look at what vets SHOULD be making, and multiply this by 1.25 for casual work, locums are often charging bang-on what is appropriate. Locums aren’t charging inappropriately, they are just demanding the appropriate higher rate we should all be achieving.
Locums are considered “lazy” for only being willing to work certain hours, or wanting to leave on time.

We should all be able to have a schedule for what hours we will work, and should be able to plan life around work. This isn’t be lazy, this is prioritizing life so that work doesn’t take over. Yes, the odd shift you stay late, however day-to-day you should get out on-time.
Locums are considered 'princesses' for not wanting to perform certain procedures or for not wanting to work overtime, on-call, or wanting things like accomodations or travel expenses paid for by clinics.
Yorkie with a crown on
Princesses have standards, and demand to be treated appropriately.
As vets we cannot be experts in everything. This also means that not every vet will be able to perform every procedure. In this self-directed profession, we all need to know our limits. If any vet, locum or full-time, feels uncomfortable with certain procedures, surgeries, or other aspects of the veterinary career, then they should say so and not perform said procedure. Any vet, in any situation, should be working and performing medicine to thier personal limits. If certain procedures are 'standard' and a locum (or full-time) vet doesn't perform these, this should be outlined to the clinic ahead of time, and may affect hourly wage. However locums refusing to perform medicine/procedures they are not comfortable with doesn't make them 'princesses', it makes them responsible veterinarians.

As far as locums requesting accomodation or travel expenses, think about the costs to the locum. If they had to pay for flights and accomodations when working in a location where they don't predominantly reside, then their 'profit' will be drastically less, and likely not 'worth it' to take those shifts. This isn't the locum being a 'princess' or being demanding, this is just making working those shifts financially feasible.

Clinics have the option of hiring locally to avoid these expenses. If clinics cannot find a local vet/locum, this means the clinic or location is less desirable, and this makes the rate the locum charges (or the added 'bonuses' of accomodation/travel expenses) appropriate and fair. Once again these 'bonuses' are all subject to the 'market' and supply/demand, so clinics only need to pay these if it is 'appropriate' given the market.
Clinics complain because the skills, quality of medicine and care provided varies from locum to locum, and they cannot get any consistency of care for their patients.
3 puppies in a bucket, all with different colour patterns
Vets, and clinics, are all different. Different spots, different colours, different personalities: both parties have to deal with the idiosyncrasies of each other.
Quality of medicine and care varies from clinic to clinic, just as it does from locum to locum. Every vet is different. Every clinic is different.

Clinics should be interviewing and hiring locums critically, just as they would a full-time employee. Clinics should also have outlines of the responsibilities of locums that are clear and easy to follow, so that locums know exactly what is expected of them.

Locums also deal with this clinic to clinic variability. They need to adapt to new billing systems, new computer systems, new staff, and different levels of medicine for each clinic they work with. Sometimes they are greatly discouraged by the poor quality of the clinics. Locums have to work hard to provide good quality medicine in many clinics, and are sometimes discouraged or reprimanded when they try to perform good quality medicine. Locums should pick their clinics critically as well, and not continue to take shifts for clinics where they do not feel the quality of medicine is appropriate.
Locums are considered “inconsiderate” for not being available to work every day the clinic needs a vet.

Locums must say ‘no’ sometimes otherwise they would work non-stop in the current veterinary climate. Locums have made their schedule and set limitations to achieve the life they want and need. By the same logic, you could argue that clinics 'should be considerate’ of locums saying ‘no’ for their personal life, and not make them feel guilty, or ask locums to work 20 days straight, or short turn-arounds, or to stay late/come in early, or any of the other requests clinics make.

At the end of the day, neither the clinic nor the locum is being 'inconsiderate'. The locum is just saying 'no' for work they cannot do, and clinics are just asking for what they need. It is the locum's job to set their own limits, and clinic's job to try to fill their shifts.
Locums are called “entitled” for demanding that they are paid for the overtime hours they work.


Locums demanding to be paid for the hours they have worked is appropriate, and all vets should be doing this! Yes, we should all work hard to be VALUABLE , and part of this is being efficient and trying to get out on time, however if the work situation demands you work longer hours, then you should demand to be paid longer hours!
Locums are accused of being “snowflakes” for not wanting to ‘work hard’ when they refuse/don't want to work hours past their scheduled shift or working double appointments because they are really filling in for 2-3 vets instead of one.
Kitten with snowflakes on face
Snowflakes are soft, delicate, and fragile. Demanding/expecting appropriate work conditions doesn't make a locum, or any worker, a snowflake.
KICK ASS VETS strongly advocates for vets working hard while they are at work! That being said, some clinics are so understaffed and over-booked that the working conditions of the clinic aren't 'worth it' for the level of pay. When you are working as 2-3 vets due to understaffing, this leads to a work-day where you cannot provide appropriate care to your patients, you cannot properly communicate with owners or write detailed records leaving yourself open to litigation and miscommunications, you cannot take a break to pee (and don't even think about lunch), and you feel like you can't catch your breath. This is stressful, daunting, tiring, and frankly a crappy day. This leads to burn-out, and makes vets that are on the brink of leaving the profession have one more reason to walk out that door.

Less desirable working conditions, either by the clinic having unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished in a day, or just being chronically understaffed so that the locum is over-worked, results in the locums not wanting to work at that clinic, or charging higher rates for that clinic.

See How to Be A KICK ASS Locum/Relief Veterinarian to be the best possible worker you can to the clinic. However if locums are working in conditions that are undesirable or beyond what a 'normal' vet work day should be, they need to determine for themselves if a higher rate will make it 'worth it', or if that clinic is not good for their mental health and not take shifts at this clinic in the future. Clinics have a responsiblity of creating a positive work environment for full-time and locum staff, and undesirable work conditions will cause clinics to suffer.
Take Home Messages:
Locums are usually the main group of veterinarians that are advocating for themselves, for better conditions, better schedule, and better pay.

The top 3 reasons that vets leave a job is due to lack of feeling of professional growth/fulfillment, anxiety/burn-out from the day-to-day job (which is affected by schedule, hours, work-environment, etc.), and poor compensation. Locums have tackled these aspects by controlling them and moulding their career to fit these needs. They have TAKEN CONTROL, and KICK ASS VETS applauds them!

Two signs pointing in opposite directions, one says 'one way', the other says 'another way'.
Locums have pursued a different way than full-time vets to meet their professional needs.
So, as there are two sides to every coin it is important to recognize that locums are not ‘thieving’ or ‘evil’. Locums are simply doing what they need to make their professional life 'work' for their life.
LOVE ‘EM: KICK ASS VETS LOVES locums that have decided to TAKE CONTROL and morph their careers to suit their needs! So, KICK ASS VETS encourages everyone to not criticize others for taking care of themselves, but to LOVE ‘EM instead!

LEAVE ‘EM: If locums are not working hard, charging more than what is appropriate, or are not practicing the quality of medicine your clinic needs then LEAVE ‘EM. No one is forcing clinics to hire the locum. Change your clinic so that you can get full time staff to decrease your need of locums. The whole vet profession would benefit if less vets had to resort to locuming to get the job conditions they need, so please, LEAVE ‘EM by making your full-time staff happy!

JOIN ‘EM: Do you feel that you just cannot get what you need in a full-time employment? Do you wish you could make your own schedule, charge rates that reflect your work, and have a diverse and fulfilling career. Maybe locuming is for you and you should JOIN ‘EM.

For more on locuming tips, tricks and recommendations by KICK ASS VETS please see our other locum blogs including How to Be A KICK ASS Locum/Relief Veterinarian , KICK ASS Tips for Veterinary Relief Locums , Pros and Cons of Being a Locum , and How Clinics Created the Locum.
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published October 12th, 2019

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

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