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Opinion: An associate is worth $35 an hour?

No wonder veterinary associates can't imagine ownership. Where does their low self-esteem come from?
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Jan 01, 2011

When I speak at veterinary schools, I'm normally teaching veterinary business management to juniors on their way into clinic rotations. And one of the questions I ask is, "How much is your knowledge going to be worth once you graduate?" I ask them to put a price on their heads.

It turns out to be a scary question for a new graduate, and do you know what they say? Students everywhere come up with the same answer: $35 an hour. I don't know where they get the number from, but it's almost universal.

We talk about lawyers and accountants who charge $400 an hour. I never get a good answer to my next question: "Why do you think you're worth so little?"

I personally think this is a huge problem for our profession. Veterinarians graduate with low self-esteem and carry it with them throughout their careers. Sure, they may not be as productive out of the gate as veteran doctors, and they may need to be mentored, but the enthusiasm and new knowledge they bring to their practices make them priceless.

I see that many young associates are looking at their current or previous employers and saying, "I am not going to do that." They need to know there are other models for owning a veterinary practice that may be more attractive to them, that will allow them to own a veterinary practice, yet still have a good quality of life. Today's practice owners must lead the way.

Mark Opperman, CVPM, Veterinary Economics Hospital Management Editor, owns VMC Inc., in Evergreen, Colo. Please send questions or comments to