As a relief veterinarian, Dr. Cindy Trice is passionate about helping her fellow veterinarians. While issues like compassion fatigue, disproportionate student debt, and burn out plague the veterinary community, Dr. Trice is focused on lending a hand and providing time for rest and recuperation for her colleagues across the United States.
Voice of the Vet™ caught up with Dr. Trice just before she hit the road to her next adventure at a clinical practice in Tahoe, California.
What inspired you to be a veterinarian?
I was never one of those kids who always wanted to be a vet. Growing up, my family always had animals and I loved them, but before becoming a veterinarian, I pursued a mass communications degree from Cornell University. After that, I moved to New York City then San Francisco and worked for six years in corporate video production along with a bit of freelance.
Eventually, I found that I was disillusioned with the work. I didn’t know where I was going or what I wanted to do. I refer to it now as my mid-twenties career crisis. I called my friend and said I don’t think I want to do production anymore. So she asked me what I would do if I could do anything and my response was to study the relationship between people and animals. She told me to get a job with animals. So I pulled out the newspaper, flipped to the want ads, and found a job listing for a receptionist at an animal hospital.
I spent the next three and a half years working at that clinic, volunteering at wildlife rehab science centers, and taking all the science classes that I had very successfully avoided during my time in undergrad. And, then I was accepted and graduated from the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Now, I’ve been practicing for 14 years. It’s kind of a weird path, but I wouldn’t change it.
How did you make the decision to shift to relief work?
I love change. I love variety. I don’t like a regular schedule. I never set out and said I’m going to be a relief vet, but as I did it, I really found that it suited me. It takes a specific personality to thrive in this environment and it’s a really good fit for me. I’m licensed in California, Washington, and Florida.
I feel a bond with my fellow vets and I hate to see them suffer. So I love stepping in and supporting the bond between the practice and its clients so that the vet I’m filling in for can really relax while they are away knowing their patients are being well taken care of. It takes a very specific skill set to do it well and enjoy it. Hiring a relief vet is a sound investment in the most important asset practices have—their employee’s mental and physical wellness.
From your perspective, what do you think makes a healthy veterinarian? And do you feel like a healthy veterinarian?
I feel like a healthy veterinarian, but I had a few years where I felt like the profession was all consuming. There were long hours. I struggled with burn out. There was a lot of disappointment that came with those emotions because I felt like I couldn’t perform to the standard that I expected of myself—all because of the volume of patients to be seen from day to day. I was exhausted and overwhelmed.
So, I had to have a heart to heart with myself and realized that I love to travel. I love change, but most of all I love to be helpful.
As a relief vet, you’re appreciated by the people you’re doing the relief work for. They’re the ones that really need the break and I’ve been there. They really need and deserve that time. It makes me feel good to know that my work allows them to take the breaks they deserve. This lesson taught me to how to be true to myself and its renewed my love of the profession.
Tell us about your latest project, ReliefRover.com.
Relief veterinarians are an underutilized, underrepresented resource. Trends in the workforce as a whole are shifting to independent contract work and flexible work schedules. I have found that not enough practices use relief vets or they don’t take full advantage of their skills. I aim to promote relief or locum tenens as a viable and exciting career choice. At Relief Rover, our goals are to help practices recognize what an asset relief vets are and to support relief practitioners build successful businesses.
ReliefRover.com is a database of relief veterinarians in the United States that will serve as a resource for community and connection for all the stakeholders in the veterinary relief niche.
Each relief veterinarian will have a listing and our site offers targeted search criteria. So, for example, you could specifically search for a vet with experience with exotics or someone who’s willing to work nights. And since some vets are licensed in more than one state, you’ll see vets who can practice in your home state, even if they may not live there full time. We want to make direct communication between relief vets and the practices who need them quick and painless.
It’s also easy to forget that relief work isn’t only limited to general and emergency practice, but extends to specialty practices like equine, large animal, zoo, and technicians as well. The Relief Rover team plans to add these sectors as we grow.
That sounds like a fantastic resource, can you tell us about any other features on the site?
The site will offer a forum for relief veterinarians to share insights, stories, and ideas. We also have a blog to share information with relief vets and practices who use their services. We’ll also offer resources to help relief vets understand multi-state licensing, taxes, accounting, and insurance needs, all while helping them connect to professionals who can assist them with their businesses.
We’re committed to a movement of vets helping vets. We can share the work load of the expanding pet population and allow each other the space away from work to realize that we are whole people with unrelated talents, responsibilities, goals, and desires. When we nurture the other sides of ourselves, we become more effective veterinarians, ensuring better outcomes for our patients, clients, and practices.
Do you feel like a courageous veterinarian?
All vets are courageous! I feel like a little uncertainty and fear are helpful, because those emotions keep you focused and alert. But, I also think that it takes courage to harness that uncertainty and fear to make it work for you. As veterinarians, we’re always facing something new and different. All you can do is make your best judgement and move forward.
Do you have a funny story from clinical practice you can share with us?
I was working an emergency shift at the very beginning of my internship. It was a super busy, private practice. I had been eating a salad before I rushed into the exam room.
I was attentively listening to the client as she told me what was wrong. I was explaining everything I was doing—trying to be thorough and do a good job. I bent over to look at the animal’s chest and I heard this huge “thunk” and I felt something wet on my chin. I looked down and this huge piece of lettuce covered in dressing had fallen on the table. All I could do was look up at the client and ask if it had been there the whole time? And, we both just cracked up. She let me go through the whole thing with that thing on my chin. She said “I didn’t want to make you nervous.” It was a funny, new grad experience.
What’s one piece of wisdom you would pass on to future vets?
Life is richer, outcomes are better, and satisfaction is greater when problem solving happens in teams. I realized that working in video production, but it’s true in the veterinary field and in a vet’s life.
Each clinic I go to, I become part of that team for the time that I’m there and if we use that, we have all this collective wisdom and that makes for better outcomes for patients, better experiences for clients and a happier profession overall. We have to work together.
A HEALTHY VET IS JOYFUL, PROFITABLE, EFFECTIVE, AND COURAGEOUS
This is the twelfth post in a series of interviews with veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and practice managers discussing their devotion to the noble veterinary profession and love for their pet patients. We hope you will follow us during this series.
If you are a clinical vet, vet tech or practice manager we want to interview you for this series. It only takes an hour of your time and Zomedica makes a donation in your name to an animal charity of your choice.