Learn About Being a Relief Veterinarian

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Relief veterinarians fill in at veterinary clinics when the regular practitioner is on leave.


Relief veterinarians provide services on an as-needed basis when full-time vets are away from their practice (often due to situations such as illness, maternity leave, family obligations, or a scheduled vacation). They also may be hired to assist with the clinic’s caseload during high volume periods.

A relief vet must be able to adapt quickly to a clinic’s culture and work with unfamiliar staff members and clients. They must also be willing to perform any duties required by the clinic including general exams and scheduled surgeries. Other routine duties often include taking x-rays, writing prescriptions, updating records, and advising clients on post-operative care.

Those working in this career niche enjoy a very flexible schedule, though they must be available on relatively short notice and able to work odd hours on occasion. Relief vets are often requested to work evening, weekend, and holiday hours.

Career Options

Relief veterinarians can specialize in many types of vet work including small animal medicine, large animal medicine, equine medicine, mixed practice medicine, and exotic animal medicine. With a highly flexible schedule, those working as relief veterinarians have the freedom to work as many or as few days each week as they desire. Some also choose to work on a seasonal basis (for example, an equine relief vet might work long hours during the breeding and foaling season, taking the rest of the year off for other pursuits).

Relief vets may work independently or through a coordinating relief vet agency, which screens potential matches between employers and the vets. The number of such agencies has grown exponentially in recent years. Some relief vets may eventually accept part-time or full-time work for a clinic to which they have been assigned.

Education & Training

All veterinarians must successfully graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from an accredited program. This degree is granted at the conclusion of a rigorous course of study that involves working with both small and large animal species. There are currently 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that offer a DVM degree, plus a number of quality international programs in the Caribbean and Europe.

After completing their degree, a veterinarian must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to become licensed to practice medicine. Approximately 2,500 graduates pass this exam and enter the field of veterinary medicine every year. At the end of 2013, according to the most recent AVMA employment survey available, there were 99,720 veterinarians practicing in the United States.


Compensation for a relief veterinarian can vary widely based on the specific duties of the position, the type of schedule requested by the clinic, and the geographic area where the practitioner operates. In terms of an hourly rate, most relief vets earn something in the range of $50 to $75 per hour, with a higher rate possible for weekend or overtime work. Some relief vets also offer a per diem and weekly rate plans.

Travel and lodging expenses are often paid by the hiring veterinary practice, especially if the vet has to travel a significant distance from their home base to report for work and if it is an extended assignment.

Career Outlook

The veterinary profession is growing at an accelerated rate, much faster than the average for all professions according to the survey data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The demand for relief vets is only expected to increase as the number of clinics grows to meet customer demand.

This career path can be an excellent choice for veterinarians that desire a highly flexible schedule and enjoy taking on a wide variety of assignments.