Q&A: So ... you want to be a relief doctor?

Q&A: So ... you want to be a relief doctor?

Answers to questions about what it takes to become a locum tenens veterinarian.
Jul 01, 2008

What a relief: Dr. Brenda Santana spent a year as a relief veterinarian in Florida. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Brenda Santana)
I'm just getting started in relief work, and I want to make it a career. Should I send an introductory letter to area clinics and hospitals? What should the letter include?

It's a good idea to mail letters to local hospitals introducing yourself as the new relief veterinarian in town. You can also write to local veterinary associations (address your letter to the president) and ask them to include an announcement in their newsletters and on bulletin boards in places where their members meet regularly. The association may charge a fee to do this. If so, decide whether the potential for clients is worth the price.

Revise your letter every six months and make changes as needed. Then send the revised version to potential clients who didn't respond to previous mailings.

Here's what a letter should include:

Contact information. Mailing address, e-mail address, phone numbers, and fax number.

Experience. Include your years of experience (I recommend you don't start relief work without at least two years), whether it was in small, large, or mixed animal practices. Also list any special interests—for example, behavior problems or ultrasound imaging.

Strengths. Mention one or two specific skills—for example, strong communication skills and extensive experience with ruptured cruciate ligament surgery.

Species interests. Mention animals you're willing to work on in addition to dogs and cats, but be specific and honest. For example: "I've performed basic work on avian species, such as wing clipping, and I've counseled bird owners on husbandry issues. I will be glad to provide these services to your clients."

Nonclinical skills. Emphasize relevant skills that might help the practice. If you know sign language and practice in a city with lots of educational opportunities for hearing-impaired people, it's likely that some of them take their pets to your client's hospital. You'll provide superior customer service to these pet owners and make the hospital look good.

Availability. Are you willing to work half-days or Saturdays? What about overnight emergency shifts? A "yes" answer makes you more attractive to a practice. If you're not sure you want to work odd shifts, just tell potential clients you're willing to consider a variety of schedules. This still shows that you're flexible and easy to work with.

An offer to meet. End your letter with an invitation to meet in person at a mutually convenient time and location. A hospital owner or manager may not have a specific assignment for you, but if you meet, he or she can get to know you, and you'll have an opportunity to sell your services. The fact that the practice doesn't need you right away may even work in your favor—you can size each other up without the pressure of making an instant decision. And don't worry if you don't get many takers on your offer to meet. Your prospective clients—as you may know from past in-clinic experience—don't have much time to talk about anything other than their immediate needs. In my relief career, only two hospital owners asked to meet in person before hiring me. But both of them used my services a few months later.

For a sample introductory letter, look at Related Links below.