How to figure out what to pay an associate veterinarian
Hiring an associate can be rewarding—but it can also be a real ordeal. You may be replacing a retiring doc, as in my case. You may be adding a doc to accommodate growth—congratulations! You may be looking to take yourself off the front lines for a slower pace or to spend more time on management or ownership duties. These different situations all require a practice owner to perform the same task: find, hire and keep great talent.
The simple part of the hiring process is the finances. (The hard part is finding the right person!) Let’s take a look.
Figuring out how much you can pay should take only a few keystrokes in your practice management software or a call to a good consultant. If it takes more than that, this is an excellent opportunity for you to get the practice’s finances in order. No matter why you’re hiring an associate, you need to have the financial side of the practice healthy—or you’ve already tanked your odds of attracting and keeping somebody great.
In my situation, I had more than a year to plan for this major practice investment. And planning this far in advance should be standard practice for such a critical business move. I needed to know how much it would cost to bring in a top-notch new associate—and how much I had to spend. My dad and I are pretty plugged in to the numbers, so financial data and benchmarks for each of us as producers were readily available.
Since the first day I started working with my dad at Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, I’ve known what each of us grosses. It took several years for my numbers to equal my father’s, so I knew pretty well what I could expect in hiring a new associate. So I calculated a reasonable salary just by pulling production numbers from the clinic’s practice management software.
Once negotiations begin, prospective associates will weigh a contract that offers a good quality of life, a pleasant working environment and a genuine opportunity for advancement against a slightly higher salary. In other words, it isn’t all about the money—especially at first. However, bringing in the right associate is worth going to the limit of their predetermined budget—for different reasons than you might think.
It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to save what amounts to one or two days’ receipts when setting salary offers—and for what? You are deliberately creating an environment in which an associate feels devalued. Who wants to devalue the very asset they’re buying? Basically, if you want someone to do their best for your clinic, they need to know how much you value them. When it comes to hiring a new associate, whether a potential business partner or a short-term part-timer, your salary offer is your first chance to express that value—and you know what they say about first impressions.
Something to keep in mind: Women generally don't negotiate like men. Expecting them to do so is unrealistic, and deliberately using the knowledge that they don’t is unethical. One reason women don't negotiate like men is that they can get worse outcomes when they negotiate than when they don't.
Considering that in veterinary medicine a largely female pool of potential replacements is poised to step into employment and ownership positions currently held by men, it’s crucial that we account for gender differences in negotiating, employing and working in order to secure a financially healthy profession for us all. This means being aware of gender preferences in salary negotiation and interpreting the other person’s actions and responses based on a common frame of reference—not just our own.