Podcast #8

With the high levels of compassion fatigue and burn-out, more and more vets are moving towards being relief/locum vets. Vets are taking charge to get the life-style they WANT and NEED, and are changing their lives to promote SELF-CARE. This blog describes tips for locums to ensure they get the most out of their new life choice!
monkey in warm water bath
We all need a spa day once and a while! Being a locum vet can allow you to create the perfect job to fit your SELF-CARE needs!
Being a relief/locum veterinarian can leave you with many opportunities to create the exact job, salary, schedule and life-style you want. It can also however lead you to overworking, miscommunications and lack of expected pay. KICK ASS VETS highlights the top 10 tips to protect yourself as a locum!
Owl statues hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
Avoid politics, gossiping or speaking badly of any other vet or clinic.
As a locum you will find yourself in many different clinics. Stay out of the politics and don’t talk about one clinic with another. You never know who is friends with who, so avoid getting involved or putting your foot in your mouth!
As a locum you will likely be placed in circumstances where you are uncomfortable. This can be in the form of being asked to perform procedures or medicine you don’t agree with or are uncomfortable performing, or being asked to work extra shifts/longer hours. Practice and learn to say ‘NO’. You have to protect your own mental health and your license above all else.
Have two or three really good textbooks, or a VIN membership, that you can bring with you in case the clinic where you are working doesn’t have a good medical library. These can be invaluable when you are stuck with a hard case and aren’t quite sure what to do. Also, remember, you are NEVER ALONE! You can always call the local emergency clinic if you are stuck, they will almost always be willing to help you with advice. (For a list of some KICK ASS Resources click here. )
Man at table signing papers
Make sure to get all agreements in writing including wage, hours, overtime, etc.
Many times you agree to a rate/wage for a shift, and the next shift you work for that clinic your wage is suddenly lower. KICK ASS VETS recommends getting all information and agreements for a shift in writing. This should include date, wage, hours, overtime rates, any extras (travel allowance, meal allowance, etc.), anything that is important to you!
As a locum you may think ‘it doesn’t matter what the clinics pay agencies’. However, knowing how agencies make their money can affect YOUR bottom line as a locum. Some agencies take up to 15% of your wage as a finder’s fee. This could be going into your pocket. Also, some agencies will continue to harass you long after you have stopped using them and also can hold you responsible for filling a shift if you have to cancel. It is important to pay attention to the details.
Another big problem with agencies is that they will call/email/text locums at any time or hour. This leaves locums being bombarded with requests to work at all times, and is stressful when vets are just trying to take a break! Many vets struggle with saying NO, leading to guilt and stress on days off.

Make sure that if you do use an agency you set limitations as to how they can contact you. Consider opening a new email address so that you don't constantly have to look at emails of work that you feel guilty declining. Consider not giving out your phone number. And importantly, ensure you understand how the fee structure of the agency, as you might find that if you contact clinics directly you can get more money in your own pocket!
As a locum sometimes there are tools or pieces of equipment that are important to you. This could be as simple as a stethoscope that you can rely on (with it’s own cute carry case), or if you are a large animal veterinarian this may include a portable ultrasound.

If you do have any larger equipment that you bring along (ex. Ultrasound- whether you are small or large animal)- you can create an agreement with the clinics that you receive a % of any fees that are generated from this equipment.
If you work at a small animal clinic without an ultrasound, you can bring your own and for any ultrasound fees you charge you can take 50%. If you buy an ultrasound for $3000, charging on average $150/scan (whether you are charging for full abdominal ultrasounds if you get your skills up (worth $300-$400) or AFAST/TFAST (worth ~$100-200), taking 50% of the fees, it will take 40 scans to have this tool pay for itself, less when you consider that it is tax deductible.
Another aspect of your own ‘equipment’ can be a template medical record that is either saved in your email, or feel free to use: KICK ASS Medical Record Template . This will save you time as you won’t be able to have your templates programmed into all of the clinics' computer systems.
Calculator with paperwork
Pay attention to your financial situation as a locum including your rates, taxes, payslips, etc.
When you are a locum, it will be important for you to pay attention to all aspects of your finances, which includes the following:

1. RATE: Locums/Casuals should be charging 25% more than a full-time employee SHOULD be making (See Evaluating Your Worth blog to get an idea of what this should be), and then multiple this by 1.25. For last-minute shifts, or other undesirable shifts, you can charge more- you will have to determine for yourself what is appropriate. This 25% increase accounts for having no vacation time, no sick leave, and no guaranteed shifts.

2. TAXES: When you are ‘self employed’ there are many components of your life that you might be able to ‘write off’ that you wouldn’t otherwise. Get a good accountant and determine what you can be claiming as business expenses. You may be able to write off part of rent, internet, phone, car payments, gas, travel time, water/gas/electricity bills, etc.

3. GETTING PAID: You will need to discuss with your employer about whether you want to be an ‘employee’ vs. a ‘contractor’. Depending on your country and the amount of money you are making as a locum you may need to get a business number, a tax number, etc, and you will need to send invoices, etc. What is best will depend on your country and tax laws. It is best to ask your accountant what is the best approach.

4. CHECK YOUR PAYSLIPS: Always check every single pay-slip to ensure you were paid the correct number of hours, at the correct rate, for every shift. Keep detailed records of the hours you actually worked each shift to compare them to your payslips. Never assume your payslip will be accurate, as mistakes are often made.
When you are a locum, you should always hold your own insurance, both health and liability insurance. This will protect you in case there is any discrepancy about whether or not you are covered by a clinic, or if you are working where you are not covered by a clinic’s insurance. This is a relatively low cost that will ensure you are protected, and is well worth the cost!
Schedule book on a table
Being a locum means you set your own schedule. Your work-life balance can greatly vary depending on how you manage your shifts. Scheduling is very important!
One of the best things about being a locum is that you can make your own schedule to fit your needs. You can work as much, or as little, as you want. However, it is very important as a locum to ensure that you are making your schedule so that you have BREAKS. You NEED days in a row where you don’t work so that you can have some down-time. Also, trying to clump shifts together can help you have continuity with cases, especially in clinics that keep cases in hospital like emergency clinics or larger centres. This will also help make your shifts less hectic. KICK ASS VETS recommends avoiding ‘turn-arounds’ that are too short, or have you constantly swapping between night shifts and day shifts. Try to get some sort of routine with your shifts if you can. Having ‘set shifts’ with clinics can help with this.

You can choose to be one of two different locums:

LAST MINUTE LOCUM: These locums often don’t book up much ahead of time, work less but have higher rates. This might be for you if you prefer to live last minute, don’t mind being go-with the flow, don’t have a huge need to have a consistent and pre-determined income, or if you are looking for extra cash on top of work. Due to the last minute nature of these shifts, you can often justify a higher rate. Some clinics will have pre-determined rates for ‘last-minute’, usually 1.5x-2x normal rate, for shifts filled within <24 hours. The downside of this is that you won’t have a pre-determined schedule, won’t have guaranteed work, and therefore cannot rely on this income as being on-going.

PRE-SET LOCUM: These locums are ones that are paid on a casual basis, however are either routinely used as the first locum the clinic calls, or have ongoing pre-set shifts that they fill. These locums book up ahead of time, but are in control of how many shifts they say ‘yes’ to. They have no limits on vacation time, but also are not paid vacation/sick/CE leave or allowance. Their rates are usually a bit lower, to account for the semi-guaranteed nature of the work.

What works best for you depends on your financial, emotional and life situations. You can always be a combination of both.
KICK ASS VETS recommends highly that any locum sets limits for themselves on how much they will work, and what nature of work they will do. This is needed in today’s veterinary economy as there is a huge demand for work, and if you don’t set limits to the number of shifts you will take, you will end up working way too much, burning out, and hating your job. Burn-out rate will vary from person to person, so determine the number of shifts/month that you personally can tolerate, and don’t take more than this on average/month. Also, set limits for yourself in terms of your schedule. Ex: “I won’t do more than 5 shifts in a row”, or “I won’t do 24-hour turn-arounds” or any other variation of shifts that cause you to burn-out. These are usually determined by experience of overworking and realizing ‘yup, that was my burn-out point’.

It is important also to set limits as to what you will do clinically and what you will not. Always be true to yourself as a veterinarian, and perform the best medicine you can. Even in clinics with limited diagnostics you can still perform Evidence Based Medicine. Also, communicate any clinical limitations you have with your potential employer so that there are no confusions when you are on shift. If you are not comfortable with surgery for example, communicate this prior to your shift. (be aware that limited services can result in a lower wage/hr depending on the needs of the clinic for that shift).
Being a locum can be a great life choice to give you the flexibility and life-balance that you need. Locuming is also a great way to get to know clinics to ‘test’ which clinic you would want to take a full-time job, or good to make a little extra cash when needed. Setting limits for yourself and making sure you are not working too much will be important to help prevent burn-out. Also, by preventing burn-out, you will be a more valuable locum to the clinics where you work. See How to Be A KICK ASS Locum/Relief Veterinarian.

Do you have any other questions, comments or suggestions for locums? Contact Us to share your experiences 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!

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