Relief Pro Tips from a Practice-Owning Relief Veterinarian

Dr. William Tancredi, DVM
November 6, 2023

The fine line between competition and collaboration

Veterinary medicine can be fiercely competitive. The seats for veterinary school admission are strictly limited, even more so for externships, internships, and residencies. We’ve effectively been selected for our high-achieving nature. Striving for excellence is commendable, but there are moments when our actions might inadvertently (or intentionally) overshadow or harm others, and that’s a risk to be aware of when stepping into a role as a relief veterinarian. 

It can be difficult to shift from an intensely competitive mindset to a collegial one, and when working a relief shift, It can be difficult not to look for opportunities to prove yourself as capable. However, sometimes, standing out is not as important as fitting in. As a relief vet, you step into an environment where everyone else knows the local ropes and has a shared history. While your medical expertise is needed, understanding and respecting the hospital's protocols and the perspectives of the permanent staff is crucial. 

The Venturi Rule and relief work

Thanks to my time as a relief veterinarian, I’ve had the opportunity to work at a lot of hospitals, and veterinary hospitals are often very different from one another. It can be challenging to fit in in a new environment, especially when we’re always trying to do our very best for our patients, but the people I’ve seen do it best are the ones who seem to instinctively understand what I’ve heard called the “Venturi Rule.”

There’s an old golf story: One of the elder statesmen of golf, Byron Nelson, was a friend and mentor to Ken Venturi, a successful pro golfer and announcer. One day, they were out golfing, and on the last hole, Venturi said to Nelson, "If I make this putt, I'll have the course record."

"Then you should miss it," Nelson replied. "Why would I do that?" asked Venturi. "Because you didn't notice who holds the record. His picture's on the wall at the clubhouse. It's the club pro. If you sink that putt, they're going to take down his picture and put up yours. We'll probably never be back here, but that guy will be here every day. And he and his friends and his family will see his picture taken down and yours put up. You’ll humiliate him. Don't you dare make that putt."

Venturi missed. And never admitted whether or not he did so on purpose. Making that putt would have removed the club pro's achievement from its honored place only for a momentary sense of victory for Venturi. 

This story resonated with me. In the small, interconnected world of veterinary medicine, I see myself in different roles — as a practice owner, I'm the club pro; as a relief veterinarian, I relate to Venturi; and when I write about these things, I channel my inner Nelson.

I learned that story from a leadership coach named-- Well, I won't use his name because he eschews anything that could be remotely considered the limelight, but he's behind Admired Leadership. I study leadership in the same way I study internal medicine and surgery and radiology, and this is one of the best of the leadership resources out there. I cannot recommend it strongly enough, especially to a profession where leadership is so important.

Understanding context over making snap judgments

In medicine, we often work with clear-cut scenarios, easily diagnosing an illness or condition based on symptoms and tests. But when it comes to teamwork and leadership in veterinary medicine, things are often less black and white. Decisions that may seem wrong to a relief veterinarian newcomer might make perfect sense within the context of that specific workplace or in relation to a specific client or patient the permanent staff are familiar with. Before we act on a judgment, it's crucial to remember that our colleagues also have a wealth of experience that guides their choices. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt more often. 

It’s so easy to condescend when we’re sure we’re right, and it’s easy to feel like we’re right when we only know bits and pieces of a story or circumstance. There’s wisdom in considering the long-term impact of our words and actions.

A call for empathy and teamwork as a relief vet

I'm fortunate to work in a hospital that's more than just a workplace to me; it's my vocation. I live and work in my hometown, and I think that makes me believe very strongly in being a good neighbor. 

While fitting in has never come naturally to me, I strive for clarity and understanding in my professional interactions. I believe that all veterinarians, especially when we are relief vets, should err on the side of teamwork. Respecting the local terrain when you're new to it not only enriches your own experience but also fosters a healthier, more nurturing environment for everyone involved. It’s likely better for the practice of medicine too.

We’d do well to follow Byron Nelson's example and consider the ripple effects of our actions. We might find that doing the right thing is much more important than being right.

Related resources

More from Roo4You
More from Roo4You