Nomadic Vet: A Journey of Community, Flexibility, and Balance

Dr. Nikki Johnson, DVM
October 2, 2023

I remember the first time I considered doing relief work as a traveling veterinarian: It was 2020, right as the pandemic hit and was changing the way veterinary medicine was practiced. It was getting harder to visit my people (my friends and family spread throughout the U.S.), but I had dreams of being able to be in two places at once — to live and work in multiple states, to spend time in my different communities. 

An adventure begins

I read a book in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic that would quickly become one of my favorite books of all time — Untamed by Glennon Doyle. In it, Glennon asks the reader to imagine their “truest, most beautiful life.” I remember thinking about that idea for a few months (when we all had quite a bit of free time on our hands) and imagining a life where I could visit all my wonderful friends and family (“my people” as I call them) that live spread throughout the country while still getting to work regularly.

As the hectic aspect of this job worsened with the pandemic, this dream life started sounding more and more appealing — not being tied down to one location, getting to be there for important times with important people, and leaving behind some of the stressors of full-time associate work (especially CALLBACKS!). What started off as a wild dream began shaping up to be a reality as I started working relief shifts full-time and really enjoyed it. A relationship that I moved from one coast to the other for ended, and so, I found myself with nothing but my own dreams ahead of me and no time like the present. 

My main companion for this adventure has been a rescue pup, Piccolo that I adopted from my first job out of vet school over seven years ago. She was fifteen pounds underweight and scared of the entire world (especially doorways and ceiling fans!), but from the beginning, she loved to be in the car, on the bed, and outside hiking. She has been my travel companion on hiking trips, climbing trips, boating trips, and a cross-country move from North Carolina to California. Our combined love of travel and being on the road really helped make my decision to move into a van and become a full-time traveling veterinarian. I know that not all pets would be happy with this lifestyle, but she couldn’t be happier (see photo of her snoozing her best life away in her passenger seat throne).

Piccolo dog sleeping living her best travel veterinarian companion life

The heart of my travels: community 

The ability to travel between jobs, join my friends for music festivals and weekends of camping, to be there for holidays with family, and to get to almost realistically be in multiple places at once has done wonders for my quality of life. A true work-life balance that allows me to work where and when I want based on my life events (or often just based on where the weather is best for hiking and rock climbing!) has become an asset. I don’t know how I could ever live without. Being my own boss and completely making my own schedule based on what I want to do after years of being forced to work weekends, long shifts, and too many hours per week has changed my life! 

Flexibility unleashed 

With Roo, I was able to see ahead of time if certain locations I wanted to visit had shifts posted and get an idea of how much work and money I could make in those areas. It made it so much easier to travel into a new area and immediately have veterinary shifts scheduled. I do find my own work a portion of the time as well as through connections and online resources, but Roo is a major player for me in finding work in a new area (and often at really competitive rates!).

I’ve been able to work in Hawaii to enjoy amazing weather, I’ve gotten to work in the wealthiest parts of California making house-calls to homes that are worth more than five of our student loans put together (haha, but sadly true), and I’ve gotten to visit every member of my family and close friend group in six months of being on the road. I’ve fallen in love with states that I never expected to like, and I’ve learned to truly love time alone with my thoughts and a great audiobook. Through this unconventional approach to our field as a traveling veterinarian, I’ve been able to find a life so much closer to my true calling with my community and a much deeper sense of balance in my life. 

More to come!

Coming soon, I’ll be writing a series of articles for Roo that dive deeper into each aspect of becoming and being a traveling relief veterinarian from the boring (but important) logistical side to the funny and exciting exploring side! Stay tuned!

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