Friday, September 4, 2015

Relief. When The Bucket Spills Over and The Calls Keep Comin.

Life is a journey beset with high hopes and many bumps along the way.

The lifeline of every veterinary clinic begins and ends with the availability of a veterinarian to see patients and one of the biggest bumps a practice owner encounters is the unscheduled departure of a vet. This unforeseen bump leaves the appointment schedule in limbo and the practice in need of another licensed body to fill the requested patient visits.

A few weeks ago one of our vets was in a terrible car accident. Thankfully, she is healing, but  her road of hospitals, surgeries, and rehab centers is still ongoing and she has a road of recovery ahead of her that will take months. This has put me in the position of having to consider using the services of a relief vet at the practice. I have been in this position before.

There are a few options available to the practice owner when a veterinarian is needed;

You can slow down your practice. Put up the old "No Vacancy" sign for all of the neighbors to see. It is a statement of a tired vet who cannot manage the requesting pet visit phone calls, or, the beacon of a vet who is considering a change in the path; perhaps retirement, downsizing, or selling and moving on to new pastures? A "No Vacancy" sign is, for me, a sign that a practice is unable to meet current demands and the practice owner is unwilling to change their business profile. Expansion is not for everyone, but being  accessible for your clients should be.

There are two practices near my clinic that are currently not taking new clients. Now, don't get me wrong, everyone sees the pie a little differently, and everyone walks in their own shoes. But, the problem arises when your phone is ringing and you can't answer the request on the other end of the line. One of these practices has decided to send all requests that cannot be met by the available appointment schedule to the ER. The problem is not that those patients will not receive excellent care at the ER, the problem is that many clients do not want to go to the ER, they want to see their vet. Further, some clients cannot afford the ER. Hence, I argue if this model is the best for the patients?

The other clinic is a single doctor practice with a great following. They too run into problems with same day appointment requests. If you are their client and need an appointment within the next few days they will simply tell you that they "have no openings." Thus, my clinic has become very busy and we are in need of a vet to meet these requests.

My options are to hire another vet, or, seek a relief vet to fill-in until the phones slow down.

Relief vets are, by definition, veterinarians who commit to working at your clinic on a short term basis. They are  essentially a substitute teacher. In my view they are however not an ideal employee for many reasons. They lack the desire for long term commitments. Not just  to you, your practice, your employees, but also to your patients. If your goal is to build, maintain, and foster a hospital that has been a part of its community for 70 years. It wasn't built on relationships that lasted one visit. It was built on families who share their family with us. It is about trust, compassion, dedication, ability, and yes, permanence.

Relief is not a word that fits our ability to serve our patients or our clients best long term. And so I struggle with what to do now.

Granted, there are times where a vet is needed with little to no notice for the practice to stay open and on its feet. Seems the last few weeks have proven this point.

My very good friend has spent the last year trying to get out of a vet partnership that no longer works for either party. A year of lawyer tennis, "my lawyer tells your lawyer" and no one gets anywhere because the relationship is so toxic they can't get their anger out of the way, has progressed to two lawyers who have their kids college education paid for and a heated deadlock where ultimatums reside. When the plans to dissolve the practice ownership degraded to the point of only making a move if it would hurt the other party both sides walked away and the clinic was left without a vet and a phone still ringing with appointment requests and a staff still being paid in spite of no paying clients. Two relief vets were called in to fill the walk-out strike.

Perhaps not the routine relief job,  but, a good example of how they work and when they work to the practices advantage.

I also know of relief vets who fill in for maternity leave, vacations, and fill-ins for small practices who need to stay open while the doctor is away. But, this isn't us, and I am not frazzled to the point of walking out, abandoning my clients, and casting my responsibility to a fill-in.

And so, I am at the place I have been before..

I put an ad for a vet out yesterday. I suppose that implies that I am still growing this practice. If my neighbors can't meet the demands I will do my best to pick up their clients and help the pets in need in our community.

Our ad for a new vet;
Veterinarian wanted;
Small animal, 4 doctor, 7 day/wk practice with high quality medicine, equipment, staff, and dedication to caring for our patients and clients. Excellent pay/commission, benefits, and work schedule. Must be proficient in surgery and taking great care of our clients and patients. We provide a happy, healthy, fulfilling place to work, without micro-management. We are a clinic with a big heart and dedication to living by our motto "compassion comes first." Please fax a resume to 410-692-6283, or visit, or stop in to say "hello".

If you are a practice owner you undertand my dilemma. If you are my client, you expect my attention to this predicament. If you are a relief vet you, I hope, also understand my position. For the interim I beg everyone to be patient and trust that we are doing our best to meet everyone's needs.

I have changed the way we see overflow appointments, walk-ins, and emergencies. The schedule that worked previously, call open appointments that day and every day following are open and available, has transitioned into days of booked appointments for the week and walk-in hours at 2 pm to 3 pm, and 7 pm to 8 pm Monday through Thursday. We have added emergency slots, and expectations for longer days and required flexibility. We are in critical mode simply to help meet the requests of our clients.

This story will be continued.. please stay tuned....

I am a small animal veterinarian in Northern Maryland. I own and practice at Jarrettsville Vet in Jarrettsville, Maryland. I can be reached there, or via

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  1. Hey Krista, a great vet I know has just moved down rural Pennsylvania close to Maryland with her husband and is looking for a job. I worked with her a few years ago and she is great. I'll pass along this info to her, her name is Annie Grant. I don't remember exactly where they moved but I know she's willing to commute a ways for the right job at the right clinic. Good luck with everything!