Incorporating Locums into Your Practice to Hedge off Burnout

Your current doctors have reached maximum output. If they don’t get a break soon, they’re threatening to mutiny.

There’s just one problem: the schedule’s booked solid. Closing the clinic isn’t an option. Double-booking someone else will only exacerbate the stress. Not to mention adding guilt to whoever takes that much-needed vacation.

Locums provide a solution to everyone’s problems.

Enter Locums

Locum tenens or relief vets are the equivalent of substitute teachers. They take over when your vets need extended time away from the clinic. That can look like parental leave, time to care for family members, vacation, or even a lengthy sabbatical.

Locum tenens is a Latin term for “hold the place” – precisely what these professionals do. They step in while your permanent staff step out, allowing the doors to stay open, so there’s no loss of revenue.

The Locuming Trend

Veterinary schools continue to send fresh faces into the world. Unfortunately, practices struggle with filling permanent positions. Social media charts a growing trend of dissatisfaction among the veterinary industry:

  • Difficult employers
  • Excessive workloads
  • Relentless pressure from clients and employers
  • Unrealistic client expectations

In a field plagued by unrelenting stress, poor mental health, burnout, and excessively high numbers of suicide, it’s no surprise that many veterinarians elect to leave private practice in favor of locuming. Freedom from localized drama and a need to exert control over their work-life factor high in the decision. When health and sanity are on the line, people choose themselves over a defection from the field.

Making the Call

Relief vets present a unique opportunity for your practice.

Locums free up your permanent staff from an exhausting workload, giving them a chance to recharge and avoid that critical burnout. Locums also provide a unique exchange of knowledge, techniques, and insight.

Locuming exposes professionals to a variety of practices. The flexibility in their schedule bounces them from small general practices to bustling emergency practices, to specialty practices with advanced technological equipment. They experience new challenges at each post, learning to adapt and grow their abilities. It’s knowledge you have the opportunity to incorporate into your practice when you invite them aboard.

Similar to networking at a veterinary conference, locums share ideas and management styles over cases. They may not handle a patient long-term, but they gain insight into new therapies through their travels. You’ll find their varied background a fresh asset to your practice, where your current doctors are exhausted from the daily grind.

Balancing Act

Locums choose to step away from permanent positions for a variety of reasons. The majority cite a lack of happiness. Anxiety and depression run high in the veterinary industry, and a lack of control over the work environment contributes. Relief vets considered a lengthy list of pros and cons before deciding to venture out independently. You should do no less when reflecting on the necessity of bringing locums into your practice.

Cheers to Locums

Locums don’t require paid sick leave or vacation time. They aren’t full-time employees, and you’ll handle less paperwork (most of it rests on their shoulders). So while you need to coordinate bringing them into the practice with your doctors’ planned time off, you don’t need to worry about when they’ll want to take a trip to the Caribbean.

Flexibility swings both ways with locuming. A lack of understanding concerning schedules drives a lot of professionals away from private practice. Child care, outside classes, even vacations often got dismissed. Locums desire more control over their calendars. As such, you’ll find relief vets willing to work within your needs. You need to be mindful of time outside of their stipulation (it’ll result in overtime pay), but most locums are at-ease enough to work with you. That freedom goes a long way to dropping stress levels.

Hesitating on Locums

You may not have to juggle a locum’s sick leave, but you still pay the price, as it were. Relief vets justify that forfeiture with higher charges. Highway robbery? Not when you think it through. Locums handle their expenses. That includes taxes, licensing, travel, and continuing education – the paperwork and finances you cover for full-time staff. If you compare the higher fees of locums with the benefits you allow your stressed staff, locums draw the short end of the stick.

Your team is a well-oiled machine. They have a routine that works seamlessly, often with minimal communication. The staff know what your doctor means even if they use monosyllables. A fresh locum won’t have that capability. Odds are they won’t even know where the crucial coffee machine is located. The interruption to workflow, the necessity for asked questions, and the possible resentment of changes in case management are inevitable. Bringing on relief vets requires a hefty dose of patience – on everyone’s part.

Bringing Locums Aboard

You know the signs of exhaustion in your doctors. They haven’t left the office on time in weeks. Incomplete charts overflow their to-do pile. Staff mutter under their breath about simple mistakes. Their last official time off was a half-day to visit the hospital for a cat bite. It’s time to bring in a locum and grant that request for a vacation. Good thing you have resources to find relief vets:

Check the Boxes

You want to protect your practice and the incoming locum during this phase. That means having a clear plan in mind. Interview potential candidates the same way you would a permanent hire. You’ll find a better match for personalities that will blend with your staff, causing less friction during the locuming period.

Download an exact, concise checklist on-hand throughout the interview and hiring process:


If your – and your locum’s – scheduling permits, have them come in a day earlier than you need. It provides a trial run for your practice, and it gives them a chance to ease into the pace of the clinic. Plus, they’ll learn where that coffee machine’s located.

Paving the Way

No one likes breaks in routine. This goes double for staff and triple for clients. Remember, locums often backed away from permanent positions to avoid staff drama. If they encounter constant resistance, they won’t return to assist you in the future.

Explain the locuming process to your staff ahead of time. Technicians need to understand locums may use different therapeutic measures, suture techniques, or even antibiotic choices from the “norm.” Rather than viewing this as an intrusion, explain it as a chance to learn a fresh perspective. Locums gain knowledge with every clinic they visit, and they’re not shy about sharing that information. Your staff can embrace this opportunity, with the proper preparation.

Never use the terms “locum” or “relief” when speaking with clients. It creates nerves. Instead, prompt receptionists to use your locum’s name. “Dr. Jones is an associate of Dr. Frank, and she’s wonderful with cats,” comes off much better than “You’re seeing our relief vet today.” Form a connection for your locum to work with. Your practice will retain scheduled appointments, ensuring continued revenue during your permanent doctor’s needed retreat.

Locums are far from the enemy. They provide a vital service to the veterinary industry. With overwhelming numbers of stress, mental collapse, and suicide, relief vets allow staff to step away, breathe, and rejuvenate their love for their profession.

If you see signs of burn out, consider bringing on a locum. Your practice will benefit from the experience.