I am that classic veterinary statistic; a female graduate who, within 10 years of qualifying, has had children, dropped out of the profession for maternity leave and now is working only part-time.
It can be a challenge to juggle a job like ours with family commitments, and for some it can be difficult to find suitable positions at all.
I work two days a week and every third Saturday morning in two different local clinics. In one I am employed on a permanent part-time basis and in the other I am a locum (I worked as a locum before I had children and have a limited company through which I invoice for my time). I am also often asked to do odd days by other practices that I have worked for in the past.
The luck of the draw
I am lucky in that I have fairly flexible childcare, so I can take on extra work at short notice but for many people this is not possible.
From speaking to friends and reading veterinary forums, part-time work as a vet is either reasonably easy to come across or almost impossible. Some lucky individuals are able to stay at their original practice and reduce their hours, but many find the clinic is unable to accommodate their needs and have to leave.
Get back out there
One of the most successful ways, it would seem, of finding part-time hours, is to go out and look for it! Drop off your CV at local clinics and outline when you could be available. Many practices will take on part-timers when they are approached and others find it useful to have someone local they can call on to do odd days. I have found that single vet practices particularly appreciate this, although you do therefore have to be comfortable with sole charge.
You don't need to set up a limited company just for odd bits of locum work, you can just invoice as a self-employed individual. But it is important to remember that if you do return to work as a locum or self-employed, you will be responsible for your VDS (Veterinary Defence Society) cover and RCVS fees. Neither of these are reduced for part-time workers and can represent a significant investment.
However, one of the biggest obstacles to returning to work as a vet is the hours that are involved – even for part-timers most clinics will want you for a full day. The holy grail of 9am to 3pm is very hard to find, but worth asking for. Most childcare options run until 6pm at the very latest, so for full days you are likely to need a partner or family who can take over for the evening.
The bad with the good
I enjoy being a part-time vet as it allows me to continue with my career and passion while spending quality time with my children. However, there are some frustrations.
Case continuity can be a challenge and I often feel I am missing out on working up patients or seeing more complicated cases. I do perform surgery – important if you don’t want to lose vital skills and confidence – but I am mainly doing the routine stuff. There is also the guilt if I ever have to leave early or cancel shifts if the children are poorly – but luckily this doesn’t happen very often.
Part-time or reduced hours veterinary jobs are out there, but they are not always easy to find. Being pro-active in looking and as flexible as possible in your availability will maximise your chances of finding work, but the unsociable hours our profession demands are not often compatible with childcare. However, we are lucky in that the wages paid for part-time work usually make the stress, juggling and childcare costs worth the effort.