As a vet you get propositioned a lot. And, no, it’s not what you’re thinking. In Miami I get phone calls or letters every month or so asking if I’d like another job. Believe it or not, it’s difficult to find a reasonably good, bilingual vet around here. In fact, I get propositioned so often you’d think it was hard to find any vet around here—any vet that’s a potential free agent, that is.

It seems that Miami has too many chiefs and not enough injuns. Everyone here in Miami’s vetville is either an upstart immigrant managing without even an X-ray machine or an old-timer looking to cash out for way more than his practice is really worth.

In between are the “claimed,” intelligent practices of those who know how to share (precious few) and we, the lowly yet much-desired, would-be-free-agent associates.

Should the much sought-after free agent respond cheerfully to any one of the offers on the table, he would quickly see beyond the smoke and mirrors: $300 a day for a ten-hour day for six days a week of hellish clients in cramped quarters with surly, underpaid techs—not my idea of fun. I’d rather swim with leeches in a jacuzzi.

How do I know? As a young thing fresh from school with visions of Philadelphia-practice standards of care in my head, I, too, responded to these overtures. I played the field. I learned that taking on what we call “relief” days while other vets went to conferences or visited faraway countries was an exercise in delusional behavior.

What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results each time. That was me. It was like going on a series of bad blind dates expecting to meet Prince Charming every time out.

I tried out days at those pretty practices with cookie-cutter vaccine schedules and disease treatment flow sheets (so much for my education—a trained monkey could practice medicine better in this environment).

I did my time in dank, forty-year old places with mold creeping up walls, no surgery lights and often no payment forthcoming for weeks (I remember once calling up a vet’s wife at home and explaining her husband’s failure to pay for my services—the embarrassed woman sent me a personal check).

Another place wouldn’t even let me practice—the head tech Nazi did everything. The vet served as mere Florida-licensed decoration.

Then there were times I’d walk into a hospital so filthy and disgusting I wouldn’t even introduce myself. I’d walk out just as fast—without explanation.

After living like this (kissing a lot of frogs for far less money than anyone merits for practicing amphibiophilia), I settled down in one place for less income than I thought I deserved. At least my lips didn’t have to approximate anything—except for my steady check at the end of the week.

Still, I wondered how other vets managed chronic free agency as a lifestyle—the life of the “relief veterinarian.” So it was that I recently asked someone who does “relief work” for a living.

Someone should have introduced me to this kind of person at the get-go. Maybe then I wouldn’t have had to deal with the stinking hospitals, the occasional non-payment or the cookie cutter nightmares, among other horrors.

Her approach? Money up-front. Research the facility through your vet friends. And charge more than enough to discourage the freaky places (and to make any potential nightmare worthwhile). This method is slow going at first. But after a year or two of this (if you’re good) you’ve probably lined up a list of acceptable clients who are perfectly happy to pay your premium.

The life of a free agent vet seems more than tolerable to me now that I’ve been enlightened. It even sounds good enough to give it a go again. At the very least, taking these guys up on their propositions could make for excellent blog fodder.