The very first time I walked into my relief shift, I felt a blend of excitement and apprehension.
I always enjoy meeting new people and seeing new ways to practice medicine. However, every single time I walk into a new hospital (and sometimes just seeing a new patient), the most common thing that runs through my head is some variant of, “Do I know enough? What if I miss something? What if they judge me for the way I diagnose or treat their patients? How can I lead a team of people I don’t know yet?” Even after working at nearly 80 hospitals, this feeling can still pop up.
And although my feelings of apprehension faded as I became more confident doing relief work, I initially did not have a good grasp of the financial ramifications. I am very much a “go with the flow” sort of person and didn’t look ahead till it was tax season.
1. Don’t let taxes sneak up on you (like I did)
When I first started contract work, I did not realize I could make so much more than I was previously. I nearly doubled my gross income that first year, which felt amazing. Also, having the freedom to set my own schedule and pick where and when I worked was a liberating feeling. However, I did not research ahead of time how much money I should be putting away for taxes as a relief veterinarian and didn’t fully understand the tax rules for relief veterinarians. So I got hit with a massive tax bill at the end of the first year.
2. Put aside money for taxes
I would definitely recommend paying quarterly taxes if you are doing relief work full-time, simply so you can avoid the tax penalty you can incur if you don’t. By setting aside a portion of what you earn from your relief shifts, you can easily pay quarterly taxes without straining your planned cash flow. The amount you should pay each quarter can differ across different states, due to varying state income tax rates, so be sure to research tax rates where you live. Your best bet is to work with a tax accountant (see “Pro tip No. 4” below).
I keep an Excel sheet with a running balance on how much money I should set aside each month, but I have many colleagues who start up a separate bank account strictly for paying taxes. This often makes it much easier to track savings and tax payments.
3. Track your earnings
Outside of working as a relief veterinarian with Roo, getting 1099 forms for filing my taxes was always a huge hassle. I would have to go through my calendar to look at all the places I worked and make sure that I had a 1099 from each one. There were always a few hospitals that forgot to send it to me or had a paperwork error. In any given year, I would work at 20-plus hospitals, which meant tracking down more than 20 separate 1099 forms and keeping track of pay stubs, etc. It was a nightmare!
With Roo, we try to keep it simple. When a veterinarian or tech signs up, they fill out a short universal W-9 form with some basic financial information. From there, Roo does the rest of the heavy lifting.
Veterinarians and techs can track their earnings just by logging into their Roo profiles and viewing their payment histories. If their total earnings add up to $600 (or more) over the course of a year, Roo will issue a single 1099 form that shows their income for all the shifts they worked through Roo for the previous tax year.
4. Consider working with a tax accountant
Although you can certainly do your own taxes and flourish as a relief veterinarian, I found it helpful to have a tax accountant who could focus on helping me save as much of my income as possible so I could focus on everything else. They don’t have to be fancy and know every trick in the book, but they should be familiar with tax deductions for veterinarians and help you estimate your quarterly taxes ahead of time (and find easy write-offs for you). I found that this kind of expertise will more than pay for itself.
5. Make the leap to relief work (you won’t regret it!)
The best tip I can give you is that, although it may seem daunting at first, relief work is still the best way to make money and have the freedom to pursue what you love. It may feel a little tricky in the beginning — such as learning about different tax forms and keeping an eye on deadlines — but in the end, it is 200 percent worth it.
Andrew Findlaytor, DVM, has been working as a relief veterinarian with Roo since 2021.