Like any other medical locum, in order to start your relief work journey you must first ensure that your licensure is in good standing with the state you will be working in. Getting licensed in a new state can take many weeks to get finalized, so prepare accordingly before you start committing to shifts. For doctors, most practices prefer if you carry your own DEA license.
Determine which region you would like to pick up work in. Do you want to get licensed in another state and use locum work as an excuse to travel? Would you like to stay home and primarily cover practices within a radius of your hometown? If you are also employed full time, make sure to evaluate if you have a non-compete and what radius may be excluded depending on the language of that part of your existing contract. Make sure to research them extensively first and establish if you would feel comfortable working in that practice with their standard of care and technology options available. Platforms like Sound Vet Med can help present options, too.
To build up a client base, you can send a letter of introduction and resume to the practices within the region you’ve targeted. If possible, visiting their leadership team in person makes a big difference. Leaning on your existing network of veterinary professionals can help make introductions more personalized as well. If you are new to a place or prefer to not do the legwork yourself, there are a number of agencies starting to establish a client base and job boards for you such as Sound Vet Med, Roo, VetIQ, Veterinary Locumotion, Relief Rover, etc. that all offer various levels of commitment to provide access to clinics needing help and billing services. Note that some relief agencies may treat you as a W-2 employee instead of an independent contractor and so may require fulfillment of a certain number of shifts per month to utilize their services.
If you would like to build your relief practice from the ground up, it can be very rewarding. You have complete autonomy over your schedule and your standards of care as well as set your own rates. You can choose to provide locum work full time or just when you want to (ie 1-2 shifts every other month). To get started, you will need to set up a business (usually a professional LLC or sole proprietorship): decide on a name, register for a federal employer identification number, and state +/- city business licenses. It is helpful to set up a separate business bank account for easier accounting as well. Bookkeeping software such as Quickbooks is helpful in keeping track of invoices, clients, and mileage; however you can easily set up a personal bookkeeping system as well. Ensure that you are tracking these metrics to share with your accountant or to help file your business and personal taxes at year-end. Some states may also require quarterly tax payments as well for businesses.
Establish a daily or hourly rate for your locum work, often this will vary depending on the scope of the practice (ie shelter work will not pay as well as emergency work). Use Glassdoor, other local relief veterinarians in the area, or online calculators to decide what to charge. Remember to update this at least annually with inflation/cost of living adjustments. Are are good online calculators to include hidden costs of relief work too.
Start booking shifts once your basic infrastructure is in place - reach out to your network of clients and offer 1-2 shifts or regular rotations, if desired (i.e. working in one place every Thursday for 6 weeks). When you are starting out, it may be useful to book 2-3 months in advance to allow for some certainty in your budgeting. However, once a shift is booked it is very important to not cancel unless absolutely necessary since you are there to cover for others- there is no one to cover for you! Remember when you are scheduling to leave yourself time for vacations and personal time off, too. A good rule of thumb is to only commit to one shift at a new clinic to start, then if you enjoy working there they can be a part of your regular rotation. If not, you can move on and investigate other options. Provide clinics with a copy of your general expectations, personal liability/malpractice/license defense insurance (like AVMA PLIT) and a W-9 prior to starting work with them. Ideally, you would have a legally-reviewed contract to help protect you in the case of legal disputes or malpractice claims while performing locum work.
After a shift, make sure to record your mileage and send them an invoice for services rendered. Account for any overtime worked depending on your policy and communicate due date and if late fees apply. Identify which payment methods you prefer: a mailed check is most common and has the least concurrent fees, however takes the longest time to turnaround. Some programs like Quickbooks, Square, Venmo and Clover will allow you to take direct payments at time of service (credit card payments, ACH debits, etc.). These will often include some processing costs and should be factored into your bottom line.
Use your existing network to grow your client base - remember that relief work is inherently temporary and so your favorite clinics may not need you forever at the same frequency, if at all. Prepare for this eventuality by expanding your contacts and including new clinics all the time. Consider offering additional services such as your own mobile ultrasound unit and getting advanced training for it, dentistry and investing in your own set of tools, or surgery at clinics you feel comfortable with their standard of care and surgical suite. Remember to charge accordingly for these additional services as they are not routinely offered by most relief practitioners and can be in quite high demand.
Don’t forget to build in personal time off and continuing education time off/expenses into your annual relief work budget. For a full-time position these will usually be paid, however for independent contractor work they will be “paid” by your business (you) and costs should help guide your fee structure to account for this. If you are full-time relief, you may also need to factor in retirement savings (good vehicles for small business owners include an individual 401k or SEP IRA) and healthcare for yourself and family.
While you should plan on saving 20-30% of your revenue generated for federal and state taxes, you can comfortably pay yourself ~ 30% of revenue as a “salary” or draw to your personal account. The remaining 40% should be distributed among your retirement savings, reinvestment in the business and a business savings/emergency fund.
This material is intended for educational purposes only, please seek professional advice for recommendations specific to your situation.
Read this for more information regarding personal finance/budgeting as a relief practitioner.