Have skills will travel

Have skills will travel

Apr 01, 2006

Relief Veterinary Practice Isn't For everybody. Yet those who find it's their calling can enjoy a fulfilling, financially sustaining career. To achieve this goal, you must actively work at building a relief practice, just as you would work to build a general practice.

I spent two years doing relief work in southern Florida. It provided me with the opportunity to practice quality medicine and surgery while having control of my time, clients, and income. I found choices and freedoms I hadn't experienced elsewhere as an associate.

One major difference from general practice is that you work with another client in addition to the pet owner—the veterinarian you're covering for is also your client. So you must consider how to run a business that delivers excellent customer service to your client—the veterinarian. Here are six strategies to make your relief practice a success.

1. Market your services

Advertise in every publication that veterinarians in your area see, including veterinary association directories; telephone advertising directories for veterinarians; and veterinary magazines, newsletters, and journals. Professional classifieds are one of the first places your potential clients will look when they need a relief veterinarian.

Follow up your advertising efforts by sending out letters introducing your services. I sent letters out every six months, mostly to hospitals that hadn't contacted me for assignments. I gained new clients with each mailing.

The more satisfied clients I gained, the more recommendations I got. These referrals were a continuous source of new clients—and repeat business. A few clients even called me to find out what dates I had open before planning their vacations.

The bottom line: Don't be shy about promoting your work. Let everybody involved in the veterinary business know what you're doing. And think beyond hospital owners. People who work with many clinics—such as drug representatives, radiograph technicians, and employees of pet cemeteries—probably know more local veterinarians than you. These connections can be a huge asset when it comes to growing your clientele.

2. Set fair fees and know when to say no

Establish fees and rules that are fair for your client and for you. Then, be courteous but firm when explaining them to prospective clients. For example, if a potential client tells you that another relief veterinarian can do the job for less, simply smile and recommend that he or she hire the other veterinarian.

Even when you agree up front on fees, sometimes problems crop up on payday. If you aren't properly compensated in a timely manner for your work, find out why. Did you communicate effectively with this client and fulfill your part of the agreement? If you answer yes, then make a mental note to say "no" next time. Someone who doesn't pay you on time isn't someone you want to work with.

If you practice high-quality medicine, you'll find plenty of clients willing to pay well and promptly for your services. Avoid headaches with the minority that don't.

Also avoid practices with medical standards or ethics that interfere with yours—even if you need the business. The good news is there are very few hospitals where the health of animals isn't a top priority, so you'll rarely run into this situation.