What a relief! The top 5 traits of a great Relief Vet
As the demand for Locum Relief staff has boomed in recent years, so has the number of vets eager to capitalise on the potential monetary and work-life balance perks of such roles. As a keen and savvy Relief Vet, you will want to ensure that you attract your pick of the available work on offer. Here are the top five professional traits that will help you offer gold standard, in-demand Locum Relief veterinary services…
As a relief veterinarian, clinic owners want you to step in and keep the clinic wheels turning, representing their business in a professional, positive way.
Projecting an aura of approachable confidence will help you rapidly earn the trust of unfamiliar and potentially uncertain clients and staff members.
It helps to practice confident behaviours, including intentional greetings (smiling, making eye contact and standing tall) and positive language (e.g. saying, “In my opinion…”, instead of, “I might be wrong, but…”). However, true professional confidence will come from healthy self-belief. If you are feeling a little deficient in that area, you could help to build this by:
- Staying up-to-date with your medical and professional knowledge. Subscribing to Clinician’s Brief for their free email newsletters can help to stimulate regular and relatively painless bouts of bite-size CE/CPD. For a more structured learning plan, consider a subscription to VETgirl, which offers a generous array of online content, including interactive, active CE webinars and a certificate program.
- Addressing any professional anxieties. Even relatively experienced vets can develop anxiety about performing surgery, which could stem from a traumatic work-related experience, after a period of leave, or due to poor mentoring and support early in their career. The Surgical Confidence Club offers a non-clinical, personal development coaching service to help vets regain surgical confidence and actively manage any surgical performance anxiety. You may also find it helpful to sign up for a practical surgery workshop or an online course such as The Six Minute Spay to help improve your technical efficiency and confidence.
- Building experience. Unfortunately, this one is difficult to fast-track. Working in a permanent position for at least two years before attempting relief work will go a long way toward building your professional confidence. If you have “been there, done that” before, it won’t faze you so much to practice the same skills in an unfamiliar environment with a new team.
Firstly, let’s acknowledge that this is a great word that should be used more often. But this delightful word also encapsulates a very desirable trait of the ideal relief vet. After all, relief vets are generally hired by practices that are practically drowning in client demand – what these clinics want is a vet who can step in and chug through work in a calm and composed manner.
Learning meditation and mindfulness techniques can help you become the metaphorical swimming duck (calm on the surface, despite potentially paddling like mad underneath). Regularly practising these techniques can boost your mental health in and out of the workplace, with regular use of the Headspace app shown to reduce depression and anxiety and increase focus and mental resilience.
However, if all this meditation talk makes you think, “What the duck?!”, you could stick with simple diaphragmatic breathing. Deep belly breathing can slow heart rate, lower or stabilise blood pressure, and reduce cortisol levels. Employing this technique for several minutes during a stressful period can really help to calm your mind and refocus your energy on the task at hand.
However, when you’re not at work, you should also endeavour to take the time and space for some proper self-care. Good sleep, relaxation and exercise practices will support your general mental and physical health, as well as help you to achieve your most zen relief vet state.
Effective communication is one of the pillars of good clinical practice, leading to better outcomes such as client satisfaction and increased client compliance. It can also help foster a positive working environment for veterinary team members.
Practising good communication is particularly important for relief vets, who have not yet established a relationship of trust with new clients and clinic members.
You probably already know the basic concepts of good professional communication with clients. But here is a refresher (because we are all probably guilty of occasionally skimping on these practices, especially at the end of a consultation block when your break-time coffee is calling your name):
- Practice active listening. Show clients that you are listening to them (particularly if they seem upset) by paraphrasing and repeating the gist of their concerns back to them and then checking with them that your understanding of their concerns is correct.
- Keep explanations simple. When explaining your diagnosis or treatment plan to clients, try to avoid any medical words that a regular 15-year-old wouldn’t understand, e.g. use kidney instead of renal, or stitches instead of sutures. Pause your spiel intermittently to check that the client understands and doesn’t have any questions. It can also help to verbally conclude each consultation with one or two basic summary points, as unfortunately, clients often forget at least 50% of what you say in consult! For complicated conditions, you should ideally provide clients with a written summary handout (which can be obtained easily from sites like VIN).
- Show empathy and concern. We often forget that a vet visit can be daunting for some clients – along with the practical stressors of transporting and restraining their animal, they may also be worried about their pet’s condition and the potential finances involved. Showing empathy and a lack of judgement can go a long way towards improving client receptivity and compliance to your care suggestions.
Practising clear, concise communication and active listening should help you establish a rapport with clients and clinic members, making them more likely to get on board with your (most likely excellent) treatment plan.
It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change – Leon C. Megginson
Working as a relief vet, you will regularly have to work with unfamiliar treatment protocols, equipment, drugs, computer systems (or lack thereof), and administration protocols. And of course, the clinic staff and the layout of the premises will be completely different wherever you go. Don’t be afraid to ask experienced staff members questions about the basics – where to find equipment, how to manage future surgical bookings, and of course, how to charge appropriately.
To be an outstanding relief vet, you need confidence in your skills and knowledge so that you can adapt to a particular clinic’s systems wherever it is appropriate to do so (e.g. in terms of regional protocols for vaccination courses), but stick to your guns if you disagree with a clinic’s standard of practice (e.g. in regards to adequate pain relief).
It helps to have familiarity with a variety of anaesthesia and analgesia drugs and protocols, so you can confidently prescribe what the clinic has on offer. A good calculator app such as Vetcalculators or VetPDA can help you to modify your approach depending on the drugs available. Additionally, the Plumbs app will give you pertinent information on any other drugs you are unfamiliar with, including dose rates and potential side effects or drug interactions.
Lastly, everyone loves a diligent relief vet who tidies up after themselves. Nurses and vet techs will appreciate you physically tidying up after yourself where possible, e.g. returning equipment used back to its proper place, and disposing of used sharps appropriately. However, the whole clinic will run more smoothly if you also properly tidy up any cases you handle whilst working there.
As a transient staff member, you need to ensure that any active cases can be easily transferred to another vet after you leave, and clients feel satisfied that their animal has been properly cared for. This involves:
- Ensuring that clients understand the essential take-home message of your treatment plan, “e.g. if your pet is not improved on this treatment within 48 hours, or gets any worse, please contact the clinic to discuss [the appropriate next treatment step]”.
- Leaving properly-written records for other staff members to follow. Ideally, these should be structured in a SOAP format (or similar) and include the patient’s relevant history, your examination findings and assessment, a summary of all the treatment options that were discussed, and any treatment prescribed/carried out (including any drug doses).
- Ensuring your cases are passed on to another staff member before you leave, including any pending laboratory test results. If possible, verbally discuss these cases in progress with another vet within the clinic and leave a written reminder note to follow up on results.
If you endeavour to embody these professional traits, you will soon build a reputation as a gold standard relief vet. And after all, who doesn’t love a bit of bling?
Relief practice not just a temporary gig – 14 November 2019 – https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2019-12-01/relief-practice-not-just-temporary-gig – As viewed on 12 May 2022
How to build confidence at work 9 August 2021 – https://hbr.org/2021/08/how-to-build-confidence-at-work – As viewed on 12 May 2022
Why good communication is key to good veterinary practice – 27 September 2016 – https://www.veterinarypracticenews.ca/why-good-communication-is-key-to-good-veterinary-practice/ – As viewed on 12 May 2022
The importance of communication skills in veterinary medicine – April 2017 – https://vetgirlontherun.com/importance-communication-skills-veterinary-medicine-vetgirl-veterinary-continuing-education-blog/ – As viewed on 12 May 2022
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