Setting It Straight – Your Locum Wage and How to “Defend” It

Apr 19, 2019

One of the challenging issues you’ll face when you first start out as a locum or relief veterinary professional, is how much you should charge. Clinics will try and negotiate you down, you will feel uncertain of your rates and of your skills, and this might even deter you from becoming a locum!

Even after you’ve been doing this for a while, you may need to review and adjust your rates from time-to-time to see if they’re still where they need to be. After all, being a locum allows you to build your professional skills much faster than your “regular job” counterparts, and those skills should be rewarded with a higher wage. Yes, you should give yourself a raise every once in a while!

As a relief or locum professional with the ability to set your own wage and hours (i.e. be your own boss), it is more important than ever to make sure your wage is as accurate as possible, and you are maximizing your profits while not overcharging the clinics and perhaps losing job opportunities. Knowing that you can make as much as 20-30% more per year than if you were to stay in a regular clinic job, it is important to know WHAT that means and even more important to know WHY that matters (as you might need to explain this to some of the clinic managers who are not used to hiring locums).

Many locums will ask around in hopes of finding out what the “going rate” is in their area. This is certainly a quick and easy way to get an idea of rates and to make sure that you on the right path. Another way would be to find out what the going rate is for similar level professionals at a regular clinic setting, and then adjust for items that are relevant to you. We will go in more detail about that below.

Although this information may be difficult to find, we have decided to help you with this article. That being said, every situation is different, so just because we have it written here doesn’t mean it should be taken as a rule. The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure that you are covering all your expenses and building your career and financial independence.

So here is what we have gathered:

Average/suggested wages for regular veterinary professionals with 1-5 years of experience in Canada and the US (in case you’re thinking of doing some travelling). The numbers below have been gathered from provincial and state surveys as well as other publicly available sources listed in the references below (please use the table below for reference purposes only and follow the links for more accurate information).


LocationDVMsRVTsSupport Staff
Canada (CAD $/hr)40-5020-2515-20
USA (US $/hr)35-4512-178-12

But as we stated above, as a relief worker or locum, you should be able to earn 20-30% on top of the regular salaries.

So, what are the factors requiring consideration when you are setting up your rates:

1) How many hours will you work this year. How many days out of the year you will want (or even more relevant), need to work? E.g. Do you only want to work only 3 or 4 days a week? Perhaps your wage needs to be higher. Do you like to work for days on end and then take a week or two off? How many weeks of vacation would you need/like? Whatever these numbers are, it is important to know that at the end of the year, you have managed to reach your desired annual financial goal by manipulating the number of hours worked and your hourly wage.

2) Experience level. Are you just starting out or do you have any special skills that are sought after, like expertise in anesthesia, surgery, or dentistry? Do not underestimate the value of special skills and always work hard to develop extra ones as you grow your career…it ultimately leads to better financial security!

3) Perks and Benefits. As a locum, you are not entitled to many benefits that regular workers might have. Things like health and dental coverage, CE and uniform allowance, vacation and sick day pay, as well as tax deductions, CPP and EI contribution. Understanding these costs and “adding” them into your hourly wage is important.

4) Work availability. Depending on your situation, like where you live and how far you are able or willing to travel, it is important to understand that as a relief worker, you might not always have the opportunity to work. Currently the demand for workers is high, and this is not an issue at all; however, it is always good to keep in mind that as a contractor, you always have to find new ways to “sell” yourself in order to ensure future opportunities and your financial growth.

5) Expenses. As a contractor, your tools, your millage, your computer and office supplies, are all on you. It is quite amazing how quickly these “little” things can add up. In order to get the most out of your locum business, it is a good idea to find an accountant to help you out, especially at the start.

After some intensive research, we can tell you there are slight differences between wages from one coast to the other, and from once city to the next; however the bottom line is up to you, your experience, and your needs.

So, with all that in mind, here is what the table above looks like when adjusted for locum or relief wages:

LocationLocum DVMsLocum RVTsLocum Support Staff
Canada (CAD $/hr)52-6525-3320-26
USA (US $/hr)46-5916-2211-16

Do these numbers seem right to you? In reality, many locum or relief veterinarians will often charge a higher hourly wage, whereas RVTs and support staff are more likely to charge lesser rates. Why this is the case is a matter of debate, and we will cover that in more detail in the future.

Some Additional Tips.
– Always make sure that you bill every billable hour. No freebies. These add up and soon you will end up losing thousands of dollars annually.

– Competing on price is a race to the bottom as there is always going to be someone cheaper than you. It’s better to set yourself apart from the competition using your skills so you don’t have to compete on price.

– Rural and mixed-practice clinics typically pay more than those urban areas because they have a more difficult time finding staff.

– Spending an “easy” day at a clinic doing routine work is less challenging and demanding than running a clinic for an entire week or being hired as an emergency or over-night locum. These shifts warrant a higher rate.

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