Carpe Per Diem: What’s Behind a Relief Veterinarian’s Fees

Oct 31, 2019 at 10:45 am
Cindy Trice, DVM

“Carpe per diem—seize the check.” —Robin Williams

Relief veterinarians are business-to-business service providers and entrepreneurs. We’ve elected to start our own businesses in pursuit of providing a needed service to our customers, earning a living, and both taking the risks and enjoying the rewards of being business owners. These encompass the reasons many entrepreneurs set up shop for themselves.

Yet sometimes there are misconceptions about relief veterinarians and their fees. So let’s break down what’s behind the invoice.

What’s behind a relief veterinarian’s invoice?

  • Geography — Relief veterinary service fees will vary by geography. After all, the cost of a plumber will likely be higher in San Francisco, California, than in Belzoni, Mississippi.
  • Services offered — Some relief veterinarians provide consultations only, while others will perform surgeries, ultrasound, dentistry, or other specialized services. Additional skills and value can come with additional charges.
  • Travel — A relief veterinarian may charge more to account for travel time to your hospital.
  • Shift differential — There may be added fees for holiday coverage, emergency call, overnight shifts, or overtime.
  • Experience — Relief veterinarians with a lot of experience may have higher rates than newer graduates.

To quote another comedian:

“Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks.” —Steven Wright

Sometimes, practice managers or owners will assess the cost of a relief veterinarian based on how much they pay their associates per day and conclude relief vets are overcharging. But what is lost in this apples-to-oranges comparison is the cost to the relief veterinarian of running their own business. So what expenses do independent contractor vets take into consideration when setting our fees?

What business expenses do independent contractor veterinarians incur?

  • Insurance — Independent contractors must cover their own professional liability, health, disability, and possibly workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
  • Licensing — We must pay for our professional licensing, which sometimes includes multi-state and/or DEA fees. Depending on one’s locality, there may also be requirements for separate business licenses.
  • Professional memberships — Many of us support and stay connected to the profession through associations such as the AVMA, state VMAs, and other organizations like AAFP or IVECCS.
  • Education — In order to meet licensing criteria and stay current with medicine so we can provide excellent care to your patients, we must budget our continuing education costs. And, speaking of education, don’t forget to factor in those pesky student loan repayments.
  • Professional services — As all business owners know, professionals need professionals, and we must pay for legal and accounting services as well.
  • Maintenance expenses — Then there are all of the maintenance expenses of running a business, including professional clothing and equipment (scrubs, coats, stethoscopes, etc.), internet and phone bills, office expenses, car maintenance and gas, and self-employment taxes.

All businesses aim to not only cover their costs but to pay the owners a salary to fund one’s personal and family life. And, don’t forget the important part of having some disposable income for travel and fun.

For relief veterinarians, an interactive way to determine a daily rate that meets one’s budget is with this free online wage calculator.

What are you getting when you hire a relief veterinarian?

As professional business-to-business service providers, relief veterinarians consider the practice our customer. Our job is to support your practice by taking care of your clients and patients as if they were our own. You should expect a relief veterinarian to provide competent medical care for your patients, friendly service to your clients, and professional and cooperative teamwork with your staff. This type of service allows your practice to stay productive while you or your associates take that hard-earned break. Relief vets are a great investment in the well-being of practice associates and owners while allowing for uninterrupted clinic productivity.

When we allow time to nurture the other sides of ourselves, we become more effective veterinarians, providing better outcomes for our patients, clients, and practices. Give yourself the gift of time and invest in a relief veterinarian today.

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As a relief veterinarian with over 15 years of small animal practice experience in four states and 50+ unique GP, ER, and shelter clinics, Dr. Cindy Trice finds great satisfaction helping other vets take those much-deserved breaks. In 2018, Cindy founded Relief Rover, a resource to connect relief vets to jobs, each other, resources, and service providers who can help them grow their businesses. In addition to relief practice, Cindy is a consultant and speaker. Following graduation in 2004 from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Cindy interned at Florida Veterinary Specialists (now Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners), in Tampa, Florida. In her spare time, she loves to volunteer, cook, paddleboard, and scheme travel plans.

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