With the unemployment rate in the veterinary profession dipping below 1% and a less than one applicant to veterinarian job ratio, hiring and retaining an associate veterinarian can seem like an impossible task. Candidates have more options for placement and are getting higher offers while stressing the importance of a work/life balance. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of visiting with several associate veterinarians this fall and picking their brain about their workplace and career. When comparing our discussion points with findings from various studies on the subject, the conclusions line up. Here are some of the key takeaways which can help you hire and retain your next all-star:
What makes your practice special?
Long gone are the days of candidates lining up to be interviewed. Now you are the one being interviewed! Why should a candidate want to work at your practice? What is your WHY? Why did you want to be a practice owner and how does your philosophy and mission show up every day at your practice? Does your practice “walk the walk” when it comes to its mission? Candidates want to feel connected to the practice and be as passionate about their job as you want them to be! Are you investing in new technology? Why do your clients love you? If you have a strong story in your practice, you can even have another associate veterinarian talk about their experience as part of the interview process. We all have a story, make sure yours is well communicated. As the saying goes, if you don’t toot your own, there will be no music!
Communication is key
During my discussions with several of the associate veterinarians, it was clear that the owners and management were not communicating effectively. Some were unaware of the mission and focus of the practice. This leads to a disconnection from the practice and the feeling that their concerns are not important. Lingering differences without resolution can cause small problems to become big problems and eventually result in a veterinarian leaving the practice. Employees should feel like they can have an open conversation with owners about issues concerning them such as scheduling, adequate support staff and large decisions affecting the practice. Likewise, owners should have open dialogs with the associate veterinarians to give constructive feedback and to discuss mentorship opportunities within the practice. Silence is a connection killer. Having clear dialogs during the hiring process and throughout employment will assist in retaining your next veterinary hire.
The Compensation Conversation
Employers and employees both agree that a competitive compensation package is the most important item to associates. According to the 2017 Well-Managed Practice Study, almost 75% of well-managed practices use an incentive-based compensation system for the doctors. When having the compensation conversation, make sure that the employment agreement clearly explains how the compensation works and for which revenue items the doctor receives credit. A lack of understanding about the compensation system can lead to confusion, misconceptions and hurt feelings on both sides. The owner can interpret the conversation as the associates desire for more compensation when really there isn’t a clear understanding of the associate’s current compensation. Education about the compensation at the start of the process and then continual check-ins can keep this awkward situation from occurring and build trust.
This is another area where effective communication early on can prevent concerns later. Employees are looking for career development opportunities whereas an owner might be looking for an employee to initiate a succession plan. Having mentorship opportunities including business mentorship can let employees test the water and think about business ownership before being overwhelmed about the idea of practice ownership. Developing and explaining advancement opportunities and how they are attained within the practice can create a long-term bond between the associate and the practice.
When we think of growing a practice, we often think of growing revenue and investing time and resources into marketing. Through a successful associate hire, you can better serve your patients while expanding your practice. A win/win for both owner and associate.