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Work and Play for Relief Veterinarians in California

California has it all – sun, sand, tall mountains, big cities, small towns – and veterinarians, of course! The Golden State has the highest number of veterinarians in the country. With approximately 20 million pets and only 10,000 doctors, there’s a lot of opportunities for relief veterinarians in California.

Let’s start with the basics. How do you become a relief vet in CA? 

If you studied in or are already licensed in California, it’s easy. You can start looking for relief work gig economy-style. Sometimes practice owners post jobs, and sometimes they work with veterinary relief services to coordinate their relief needs. Or join a veterinary relief service that serves California. It’s easier to start with a relief vet staffing company, as the company can do the job hunting for you.

California has reciprocity agreements with all US states as well as Canada that grant you a one-year temporary license. You qualify for a temporary license if you graduated from an AVMA-accredited school and have worked more than 2,900 hours in the last 2 out of 3 years. The board will also require your NAVLE certification and proof of your home state license to become a relief vet in California. Once you’ve submitted your paperwork to the California Veterinary Medical Board (VMB), you’ll have to complete two items unique to California:

  • VLE (Veterinary Law Examination)
  • 3-day California Curriculum Course, offered in March & September

Getting your temporary license to become a relief veterinarian in California will cost $450 for the application fee and the VLE. Additionally, there’s a $51 fingerprint fee, for a total of $501. You should be able to make up those costs in your first relief shift.

California has a slightly more worker-friendly labor law than the national standard. The most important difference is break times. Shifts that go over 10 hours get a second 30-minute break. This may apply to veterinary technicians and support staff.

Relief veterinarians in California should have a good background in general pet health. Common procedures include:

  • Preventative care
  • Dentistry
  • Microchipping
  • Vaccines

Less common procedures that are popular in California may include:

  • Ear crops
  • Tail docks

As a relief veterinarian, you have the flexibility to work part time or to take on a long-term, limited position, like when filling in for maternity leave or other sick leave.

The good news is that veterinary salaries in California are higher than the national average. According to the US Bureau on Statistics, a full-time veterinarian in California makes on average $65/hour. Your relief vet rates may differ from the average depending on experience and location. 

The bad news is that California income tax rates can be high – 9.3% for salaries up to $299,508. Here’s how California rates stack up to bordering states:

StateAvg SalaryTax RateNet Annual

Surprisingly, Arizona veterinarians come in with a higher salary in general, and a higher net salary due to lower taxes. No-tax Nevada nets out less than California, so you’re better off working in LA than in Las Vegas. This doesn’t factor in the cost of living in each state or area, however.

When you work as an independent relief veterinarian, you have to keep records for each clinic you work with and wrangle through the tax situation on your own. A relief veterinary service consolidates all your California work hours into one document, simplifying your tax filing.

Our founder was partially inspired to move into relief work to make vacationing easier. She looked for opportunities in places that she wanted to visit. She worked as a relief vet in California for a week or two to subsidize her vacation to one of the many national parks.

Popular cities for relaxation and tourism include San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterrey, and San Francisco. Each city has its own flair and history and worth a multi-day visit on its own, but you can also link them with a road trip.

Starting in the south, San Diego is directly on the Mexican border. Streetcars and public transportation get you access to the main areas of the city. Relief vets in San Diego can expect a slightly laid back atmosphere. The famous Gaslamp District is full of hip clubs and a mix of timeless and modern restaurants.

In contrast, Old San Diego is where time stands still. Adobe buildings are home to historical displays, small museums, and a variety of unique retail and dining options. And finally, there’s Balboa Park, a massive green space with museums and the famous San Diego Zoo.

Where San Diego is laid back, Los Angeles is high-powered and busy. You’ll definitely need a car for relief vet work in LA. While public transportation exists, it’s not quite as comprehensive or convenient as a car, even if parking is a beast. 

Whatever your interest, Los Angeles has it in spades. The movie business is obvious, with the Walk of Fame, actual studio visits, and movie-related theme parks. 

But there’s also a science museum, the La Brea Tar Pits for your interest in evolutionary biology, and the high art of the Getty Museum. No matter where you go, you’re sure to find a gem, whether it’s a Spanish restaurant with a live flamenco performance, historic theaters, or a bar with the newest mixology trends.

Monterey focuses on nature and history. The gateway to Big Sur, one of the most dramatic landscapes, Monterrey was known as a fishing and fish processing town in the early 20th century, especially through Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. Monterrey has kept the actual Cannery Row and turned it into a tourist area. Additionally, the connection with the ocean is continued with the Monterey Aquarium. It is a leader in its field, so relief veterinarians that enjoy ichthyology should definitely stop by. 

San Francisco is home to tech giants, Ghiardelli chocolate, and the curviest street in the world. It’s not to be missed, but you can keep the car in the garage here. Public transportation is excellent and will save you money and headaches trying to park in the notoriously packed city. 

While Fisherman’s Wharf is a main tourist attraction, there’s also smaller neighborhoods for individual tastes. Hippies and bohemians can still head to Haight and Ashbury for new age shops and a taste of the 60s. LGBTQ+ relief vets can find friendly events and clubs in the Mission District or the Castro District. Not only does San Francisco boast a thriving Chinatown, but also a strong Japantown neighborhood, where traditional and modern Asian concepts thrive.

Vibrant cities aren’t the only thing California has going for it. To really get away from it all, relief vets going to California can pick from a variety of natural retreats. With the most National Parks in the US, miles of coastline, stunning mountains, the lowest and highest points in the continental US and millions of acres of protected land, there’s room to relax.

  • Yosemite
  • Lassen Volcanic
  • Pinnacles
  • Death Valley
  • Sequoia
  • Joshua Tree
  • Channel Islands
  • Redwoods

While Yosemite is arguably the jewel of California’s National Parks, you might want to consider something less crowded. In the summer, consider Lassen Volcanic for otherworldly landscapes and dramatic views. In winter, brave the depths of Death Valley or explore the alien plant life of Joshua Tree. If you’re in California in the early spring, watch for wildflower blooms. These often happen in February or March after a wet winter.  In this case, state parks like Anza-Borrego can explode in bright oranges and yellows.

If you do choose to visit Yosemite, consider routing through the Alabama Hills. This dramatic landscape of boulders sits in the foothills of Mt Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. You might recognize the background from Django Unchained. Best accessed via scenic US-395, the Alabama Hills offer plenty of hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing opportunities before or after your shifts as a relief veterinarian in California. There are no pet restrictions, and horseback riding is encouraged. Small towns with vintage style, like Lone Pine and Bishop, offer food and modest accommodations. For more upscale options, head to Mammoth Lakes.

Whether you prefer city attractions or natural vistas, finding work-life balance feels easy as a relief vet in California. There’s plenty to do and see, but also space and time to disengage and find solitude and solace.

Becoming a relief veterinarian in California is relatively simple due to reciprocity. However, since the required class is only offered two months out of the year, you’ll want to plan your entry into work as a relief veterinarian in California wisely. 

Using a relief veterinary placement service like Holiday Vet can simplify getting shifts, payment and paperwork. 

We’re looking to place relief vets in Los Angeles and other cities throughout the state now. Let Holiday Vet help you find reliable relief work for trustworthy, friendly practices.