Dr. Lauren Catenacci is the head of people and culture at Galaxy Vets, an organizational psychologist and a leadership coach passionate about creating workplace cultures that enable all veterinary professionals to thrive. Previously, she worked with leadership teams ranging from the military and governments to the private sector to develop solutions for transformational change.Read Articles Written by Lauren Catenacci
The pandemic left the veterinary industry understaffed and overworked. Your team is likely exhausted, too, and as a practice leader, you look for ways to ease the burden. One solution involves relief veterinarians, who can be an integral part of your clinic’s burnout-prevention strategy. However, finding and training the right people takes effort. While you might consider relief veterinarians a short-term solution, nurturing an ongoing relationship with them will pay off in the long run. So, start by shifting your mindset and thinking of them as a trusted talent network instead of an on-demand resource.
According to a Galaxy Vets survey conducted in collaboration with Relief Rover, 68% of clinics utilized relief veterinarians because the practices were short on staff, while 9% indicated that peak-demand seasons, such as holidays, were the primary reason.
If you consider relief veterinarians easy, temporary help, you might be undervaluing them and missing out on growth opportunities.
More than simply filling a gap, relief veterinarians:
- Bring new ideas to your practice.
- Address increased client demand during busy periods.
- Help scale your practice.
- Allow your core team to see emergencies and other non-planned appointments.
- Stop you from turning away clients.
Most importantly, relief veterinarians can give your core team a break rather than force the staff to shoulder an increasingly heavy burden. Nearly 23% of the employers surveyed recognized this as the top reason for hiring relief vets.
Finding talent can be a lengthy, complicated process. Once you hire good relief veterinarians, your goal should be to keep them on board. According to the survey, nearly 58% of relief veterinarians named an attractive practice culture the most important factor in deciding whether to return to the clinic.
Here are eight ways to foster long-term relationships with relief veterinarians and position your practice for continued success.
1. Establish Expectations and Agreements
Good talent is booked months in advance, so you need to plan accordingly to ensure that your preferred veterinarian is available. Maintain a calendar a few months into the future and mark your team’s days off and vacations. Effectively map out staffing requirements by identifying the busy seasons, promotional campaigns and other anticipated needs. Share the schedule with your trusted relief veterinarians and tell them you are looking for continuity and would like to book them far in advance. Be sure to honor all commitments; otherwise, you risk losing someone forever if you back out at the last minute.
2. Develop an Onboarding Process
Starting a new job can be stressful. Between meeting new people, learning workflows and figuring out the recordkeeping system, a relief veterinarian can feel overwhelmed during the first several days. Yet, many practice owners expect relief veterinarians to jump right in with no formal training.
Providing a structured onboarding process will help relief veterinarians assimilate faster, be more productive and ultimately improve their practice experience. Try this:
- Introduce all team members, who should be prepared to give the relief veterinarian a warm welcome and answer questions.
- Assign a workplace buddy, such as a practice manager or customer service representative, to guide the relief veterinarian through the first days.
- Conduct a formal orientation. You can repurpose your onboarding materials, including welcome packs, frequently-asked questions and training manuals.
- Explain workflows and processes.
- Point out any nuances of working with your equipment or technology.
3. Integrate Into the Practice Culture
Each relief veterinarian will have a different working style, so provide clear guidance about what success looks like in the clinic. Educate relief veterinarians about your core values and processes and how you communicate with colleagues and clients. The more you embed relief veterinarians into your culture, the more their work will align with your values. This will foster loyalty and help them gain a sense of belonging instead of feeling like outsiders.
4. Provide Mental Health Support
Relief veterinarians work for themselves, sometimes creating a sense of loneliness or a lack of belonging. So, connect them to your practice and team. Rather than talking only about work, show an interest in their personal lives while maintaining a professional distance. When you ask how they are doing or spend their free time, they will feel closer to you and consider the possibility of a longer-term relationship.
Ongoing conversations can help you identify and combat burnout in relief veterinarians. Ensure that your relief veterinarians can access the same support structures and resources as your permanent employees.
5. Consider a Custom Benefits Package
Uncertain job security and a lack of fringe benefits are critical challenges for relief veterinarians. While practices are not obligated to provide the same benefits as regular employees, doing so is a competitive advantage. Designing a custom benefits package for relief veterinarians can make your practice more appealing than others. The perks might include:
- Discounted pet care.
- License or continuing education expenses.
- Long-term equity in the business.
6. Talk About the Future
Sometimes, veterinarians take relief work to explore different practices and management styles and search for the perfect fit. They might not be explicit about their intentions since they want to evaluate the practice’s day-to-day culture firsthand.
7. Ask for Feedback
Relief veterinarians often feel they have no say in a practice’s workflows and policies. Still, they are uniquely positioned to offer a fresh perspective on what works or can be improved. Solicit feedback and possibly integrate it into your processes and practice operations. If you survey your employees’ job satisfaction, which I strongly recommend, always include your relief veterinarians.
8. Maintain the Relationship
Building and fostering a good working relationship with the clinic team takes effort. Treat your relationships with relief veterinarians the same way. Has your practice added a new employee or service? Reach out to the relief veterinarian to share the exciting news. Has a team member added a two-legged family member? Email baby pictures. Likewise, send holiday greetings and occasionally check in to see how the relief veterinarian is doing.
You have two choices. You can use relief veterinarians to cover staffing shortages and employee vacations. Or even better, you can build a network of trusted talent to help your team get through times of crisis, improve your practice, and be an integral part of your long-term success plan.