Who’s Your Boss: A Look at Permanent vs. Relief Work in VetMed - By Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS



There’s been a big shift in the way veterinarians and veterinary technicians look at their careers in the last few years given our world has been more than a little upside down. That being said, the ever increasing number of vets and technicians leaving the field completely has become a problem as well. Sustainability in veterinary medicine is important now more than ever, and it’s essential to recognize that it’s possible to create this sustainability for yourself in permanent jobs as well as relief work. You can get great compensation with flexibility from a permanent position, but it’s also possible to feel secure and safe in the relief/freelance world. I have struggled with the benefits and challenges of both permanent and relief work, and wanted to dig in to look at both of these in more detail for those considering making a change or looking for some reassurance that what they’re currently doing is right for them. I reached out to the veterinary community and have learned what people truly value about their positions, what parts they don’t love, and also what their compensation packages included (or what they were business expensing if they were self employed). Below is a comparison of the components of permanent vs. relief work (yes, including compensation examples) along with ways to make them work for you.


PERMANENT POSITIONS


In this section I’m roughly classifying a permanent position as someone who is employed under a form of long term fixed contract within a single practice/entity. This includes people working part or full time for a private or corporate owned business. Historically, this type of position has been a more traditional pathway for people graduating and becoming veterinarians in the world of medicine. I always assumed when I graduated I would go straight into small animal private practice and stay there forever, as I think many of us do. There were many things I loved about my permanent GP gigs, and many components that I struggled with. As I’ve gotten older and gained more experience, some of the things I used to struggle with I’ve become more adept at handling but I’ve also come to appreciate that I can walk away from experiences that aren’t serving me. In my discussions with our colleagues, below were the things that seemed to appear the most in conversation.


It’s no secret that salaried positions provide security and stability in the following areas:

● Relatively consistent schedule

● Income

● Benefits covered by employer

  • Insurances (health +/- vision/dental, liability, disability)

  • Dues/membership fees (state VMAs, VIN, other formal veterinary groups)

  • Licenses (state, DEA)

  • CE/CPD

● Paid vacation/holiday

● Paid family leave (including maternity/paternity)

● Working bond with colleagues

● Working bond with clients/patients

● Ability to influence practice culture and care standards


Some of the limitations to think about in a salaried position may include:

● Available time off for vacation (paid and unpaid)

● Potential oversight on the type of medicine you practice (hospital protocols, management)

● Lack of variation in work environment (coworkers, clients, cases, etc.)

● Less flexible schedule

● Longer hours without additional compensation

● Dissatisfaction with management


Below are a few ranges/averages of compensation packages from several colleagues (collect via private survey) in similar positions from similar areas of the US below:


SMALL ANIMAL VETERINARIAN, GENERAL PRACTICE - FULL TIME PERMANENT POSITION

Locations: Seattle WA, Phoenix AZ, Atlanta GA, Dallas TX, and Pittsburgh PA

● Work week: 36 to 45 hours

  • Schedule: 4 days per week (may or may not include a Saturday)

  • No on call or out of hours obligations

● Annual compensation: $115,000 to $125,000 base salary

  • Plus 21 to 25% production

● CE/CPD allowance: $1,500 to $3,000

● Paid vacation: Equivalent to 2 to 3 weeks

● Paid sick days: Variable, anywhere from 0 days to 5 days

● Dues paid: State licensure, AVMA, AVMA PLIT (or other liability)

● Benefits: Discounted private health insurance, some companies offered 401k matching or ROTH contributions


Note: Permanent ER positions in general tended to include higher annual income, less work days total but usually similar to higher total hours, more varied schedules including overnights, and higher bonus structures.


Oftentimes we can feel “stuck” in permanent positions. It’s important to remember what aspects of your career are motivating or interesting to you, to promote growth in your workspace but also to remember WHY you’re doing what you do. Another thing people often get bogged down by is compensation. Is your salary reflective of your skills and what you are bringing to the table? Is your entire compensation package reflective of what’s important to you in your life and career? Don’t be afraid to have these discussions with your management. It can be awkward and stressful for even the most confident and extroverted of us all, but you’re less likely to get what you want if you don’t ask for it! Whether it’s a higher salary, fewer hours, more vacation time, more CE money, or even more of something in your hospital - the majority of businesses want to keep hard working employees happy to keep them in their hospitals. I wish this was true everywhere, but like to hope most do. And if they don’t, perhaps it’s time to consider what other options are out there.


RELIEF/LOCUM POSITIONS


Here I will roughly classify relief work as someone who does veterinary work as an independent contractor, a sole trader, or a limited company. We will group these as individuals who work for one or more clinics/businesses and are acting either as their own “employer” or using a staffing/outsourcing company. These companies will often provide their own contracts thus can offer benefits like paid vacation as well as taking care of taxes prior to paying a wage to those who use them. I have done both, and find that again each has its own benefits and challenges.


Here are a few benefits of considering the relief veterinary life:

● Flexibility in/control over your schedule

● New experiences

  • Variable support staff

  • Working with a greater variety of veterinarians

  • Trying variable styles of medicine (GP, ER, specialty, etc)

  • Potential to travel (state/country licensure will vary)

● Potentially increased total annual income

● More time to try multiple avenues of medicine within your scheduled work hours

  • Consulting, writing, industry, social media, etc.

While relief work can be appealing for many reasons, don’t forget as your own “boss” you are now responsible for:

● Deciding whether you want to work as an independent contractor vs. setting up a limited company/sole trader type business

● Paying your own income taxes at the end of the tax year

● Paying for your own “benefits”

○ Licensure

○ Insurances

○ CE/CPD

○ No ‘paid’ leave or holiday/vacation (i.e. if you aren’t working, you are most likely not bringing in income)

● Complications with DEA licensure if you do not have a “home base” hospital (this does not travel with you)

● Being responsible for booking your own work (unless utilizing a recruitment/staffing/scheduling agency)

● Variable travel/commuting requirements

● Less ability to impact practice culture or practice protocols/drugs carried


SMALL ANIMAL VETERINARIAN, GENERAL PRACTICE - FULL TIME RELIEF WORK

Locations: Suburbs of IL, Houston TX, Southern CA, Denver CO, Suburbs of NY

● Work week: 30 to 40 hours

○ Variable schedule, most people not scheduling evenings/weekends

○ Rates:

  • $700 to 1,000 per full work day (more if ER)

  • $75 to 100 per hour if hourly (more if ER)

○ Annual compensation: $120,000 to $155,000 (more if ER)

○ No on call or out of hours obligations

● Business expenses/out of pocket costs or considerations:

○ CE/CPD allowance

○ Vacation/holiday all non-paid

○ Licensure: State (may be multiple if planning to travel)

○ Dues/fees: AVMA, variable other organizations (VIN, AAFP, etc.)

○ Insurances:

  • Pays private health insurance out of pocket monthly

  • Disability insurance

  • Liability insurance (most often PLIT)

○ Splits percentage of monthly income into high interest savings, ROTH IRA, traditional IRA, life insurance policies, among other investments/savings accounts


Straying from the security of a permanent position can be overwhelming. In some cases it can be extremely freeing whereas in others it just doesn’t make sense for people to do. Some things to consider when you are “becoming your own boss” include the job satisfaction side of the coin, and the financial side of the coin. It is essential to consider the things about your career that you enjoy and put those at the forefront of your mindset. This might include a specific type of medicine, a certain genre of practice, or even skills like client communication. These should be in your mind when considering potential work, particularly when it comes to career growth and sustainability. On the financial side, it can be helpful to start with your monthly budget. Decide what your monthly income needs to be and work backwards to determine how many days you need to work and what you need to charge for that work. This will also need to be factored into the average going rate for the work you are doing (relief shifts, consulting, writing, etc). You want to strike a bit of balance between charging what your time and skills are worth, but also relatively in line with what businesses are able and willing to pay for that type of work. Pay structure will also be up to you, meaning you will need to determine if you wish to charge an hourly vs. daily rate for a shift. Overtime should also be appropriately compensated for and outlined clearly.


While this outline is by no means all inclusive, it highlights important conversations we need to be having about changes in our field. There are endless ways to make both permanent and relief type situations work for you, and each comes with its own benefits. Both can be rewarding in terms of contributing to our community, and each also comes with its own set of hurdles. While choosing which might be the right route, consider how you can make veterinary medicine work for YOU! There is no one right way to be a veterinarian or technician anymore. Hybrid career paths are emerging every day and can help us create sustainable careers to keep us happy in the profession for the long term.


Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

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