Surviving the silly season

surviving the silly season

From recruiting locums to stocking up on consumables, here’s how to ensure your business can survive the busy holiday period. By Rachel Smith 

The silly season is in full swing—and as most of the population starts to wind down and look forward to a few weeks off, many veterinary practices are the opposite. So, what can you do to ensure the holiday period runs smoothly for your staff and your practice?

“Unfortunately, hell in a handbasket is always going to happen at Christmas—for our practice anyway!” says Dani Bliim, nursing manager at SASH Vets on NSW’s Central Coast. “The holiday season coupled with summer weather can be a double whammy for vet hospitals. People are holidaying with their pets, taking them out and generally spending more time with them which can mean more issues and accidents.”

Eric Herbst from Vet Locum List agrees, saying many clinics spend the holiday period dealing with everything from snakebite to heat stroke. “Plus, pets stealing food off plates or digesting bits of holiday decorations, or chocolate can also lead to more cases of vomiting, diarrhea, pancreatitis and foreign objects in the stomach.”

Handling staffing issues

While some veterinary clinics close over December—letting clients rely on emergency veterinary services—if yours remains open it’s critical to get your staffing right. “Being short-staffed at this time of year can be damaging to a practice from a business perspective,” says Bliim, “and from a staff welfare point of view. We’re open 24/7 and Christmas is by far our busiest time and also a blackout period when leave isn’t approved. Overworking staff at this time of year can be easily done.”

Bliim says SASH Vets gauge their staffing needs from past holiday patterns and plan rosters for the Christmas holiday period in the middle of the year. “We roster on additional staff and have staff on call to make up the shortfall should we require it— and we try to allow staff to take leave before or after Christmas to prevent burn-out. We also make sure we buddy up new staff so they feel supported.”

Dr Karen Davies from Direct Vet Services in Melbourne says her clinic also doesn’t allow staff to take holidays over the immediate Christmas period. “We’re open throughout the holiday period except for public holidays and the practice needs to be staffed and manned—so we have that written into our contract.”

However, Direct Vet Services does offer a student training program and Dr Davies says that can be a handy source of casual employees if required. “So, if one of our nursing staff really does need a break or has family commitments interstate or overseas, we have the students with us one day a week right through the year and they can step into that nurse’s position without too much disruption to the business.” 

Hiring extra staff

There are a number of online outlets offering locums and nursing staff, whether you’re looking to post your own job, or let an agency find staff for you. 

“The holiday season coupled with summer weather can be a double whammy for vet hospitals.”—Dani Bliim, nursing manager, SASH Vets

Veterinarian Dr Wendy Nathan from advises veterinary practices to plan well ahead if they’re going to need staff over December and January. “By mid-November we find most locums are already booked for January and that the January school holiday period is much more in demand,” explains Dr Nathan. “We find some clinics book locums up almost 12 months in advance.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that with today’s veterinary job economy, clinics are now competing for the few available veterinarians, according to Herbst. “This is even more true around the holidays, when people will often opt to hit the beach rather than the examination table,” he explains. “It’s something to think about when trying to attract staff – so recruit early and realise that professional locums, who have the greatest flexibility in their schedule, plan their work 3-6 months in advance.”

Writing a job ad

Resist the urge to write a long, information-packed advertisement—no-one wants to grind through an essay, says Herbst. “Making points clear and easy to scan is key,” he explains. “Go for short paragraphs with distinct buzz words like ‘ultrasound’, ‘in-house blood work’, etc. At Vet Locum List we also enable you to upload pictures and video content to your ad which can make it more enticing to applicants.”

Include perks on your ad, too. “Pay a good wage, provide nice accommodation, pay travel costs and provide good support from staff at the clinic,” says Dr Nathan.

Offering variable shift lengths can also help, as some locums will want to do longer shifts to get the most out of holiday rates, says Herbst. “Lastly, be clear that you’re providing food! Having pizza delivered twice a day does wonders for morale and keeping your staff going.” 

3 tips for a more streamlined holiday period

  • Make use of your email newsletters “We try and organise our clients ahead of time,” explains Dr Davies. “In November we’ll start reminding them via newsletter to have their vaccinations done so they’re up to date prior to needing boarding kennels at Christmas time. We’ll also remind them to stock up on their parasite control if they’re taking their dog away with them on holidays—it helps spread the work in case there’s a busy rush ahead.”
  • Stock up on supplies If you are hit by a busy period, the last thing you want as a practice is to run out of those essentials your furry patients may need. “We have stocks of ‘holiday’ medications and consumables that can be depleted at this time of year, to ensure the team have enough supplies,” says Bliim.
  • Put timesaving systems in place “It really helps when locums can fill in important paperwork in busy situations—so having printouts of euthanasia consent forms, blank estimate sheets and so on means the vet isn’t fighting with the computer system when they could be seeing clients,” says Herbst.


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