Tips for relief veterinarians

Published on November 14, 2019

Dr. Cindy E. Trice, relief veterinarian and founder of Relief Rover, an online community for relief veterinarians, gave a talk at AVMA Convention 2019 this past August in Washington, D.C., on “Relief Practice as a Rewarding Alternative Career Path.” Following are some of the tips from her session, which have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Setting up your relief business

A common question is whether your relief business should be set up as a sole proprietorship or as some type of business entity, such as a limited liability company or even an S corporation. Always consult with your own lawyer and accountant to discuss the best way to operate your business in light of your specific state’s laws, risk tolerance, liability exposure, and specific tax advantages.

The next step will be to set up an accounting system. I recommend setting up a separate bank account for your business, although if you are a sole proprietorship, you are usually not legally required to do this.

Some expenses you will need to track include equipment purchases, marketing materials, association dues, professional fees, and the costs of insurance, continuing education, and travel.

Decide the sectors for which you would like to provide relief services. Some options include daytime-only general practice, night or day emergency clinics, vaccine clinics, shelters, telehealth, or even house call services.

Decide how far you are willing to travel. You may only want to work in your town or might be willing to drive two hours or more for a job. Consider becoming licensed and working in multiple states as a way to experience another part of the country or spend extended time with geographically dispersed friends or family.

Contracts, insurance, taxes

Drawing up a contract that clearly outlines the services you are willing to provide, the species you will see, the fee schedule, and the agreed-upon dates and times will eliminate misunderstandings and miscommunications. Also include any cancellation policy. The practice should sign and return the contract.

The main insurance categories that you should consider as a relief veterinarian are professional liability, disability, health, worker’s compensation, and potentially business property.

If you are acting as an independent contractor, then you should receive a 1099 tax form from each clinic as a means of reporting your income. If you are acting as a relief employee, then you should instead receive a W-2 tax form from each clinic where you worked. Speak with an accountant about how to best classify your business for income tax purposes, how to deal with self-employment taxes, how to maximize your available business deductions, and the benefits and burdens of being a relief employee versus an independent contractor.