Owners: meet associates in the middle
Are you looking for a job where you can work 25 hours a week and make $250,000 a year? Me too. Let me know if you find any.
Baby boomers are full of stories about the "younger generation" and their focus on work-life balance. Work-life balance in this context generally means fewer hours spent at work and more hours spent doing non-work activities. In addition to work-life balance, the "younger generation" also wants to make more money. And with increasing student debt levels, they need to make more money.
AGE AS A FACTOR
But since the AVMA data doesn't include information on respondents' ages, we don't know if young associates' actual work hours match the perception. If age does factor into the number of hours worked per week, we must ask ourselves if the difference is caused by a generational gap, or if practice owners—who tend to be older—simply work longer hours than associates.
WORK MORE TO EARN MORE
Here's a more important question: Is it reasonable for younger associates to expect to work fewer hours and make more money? Probably not in veterinary medicine, at least with our current business models. While the AVMA data doesn't demonstrate causation, it's likely that doctors working longer hours is part of the reason for their increased earnings. It would be interesting to know the number of hours worked by veterinarians in the 75th and 90th percentile of earnings.
THE ANIMAL-DENTAL DIVIDE
And what about in other professions? Data isn't readily available for all occupations, but an interesting study was done several years ago in the dental field. In the last 10 years, dentists have consistently earned significantly more than veterinarians. But a 2003 study concluded that dentists—both male and female—worked between 35 and 36 hours per week. That's significantly less than veterinarians worked in 2003. You may have heard of veterinarians who work fewer hours and still make better-than-average money, but it's not the norm.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
In the short run, a doctor's salary is a personal issue. If you want to make more money, you need to justify your salary. Practice owners won't raise associate salaries if they get nothing in return. And what they want in return is increased production and for associates to function as part of a team. Certainly, working longer hours isn't the only way to increase productivity. Clinic systems that help veterinarians work efficiently are also key. However, in our current business models, hours are still important. If you're there more, you can do more. So associates need to find a balance between time and money. If they can get by with a lower salary, they can work less.
In the long term, we need to look at how our practices are run and the business models we rely on. To continue to attract young veterinarians with higher financial expectations, practice owners must make it possible for veterinarians to work more efficiently, produce more, and earn more. And veterinarians will need to develop the skills necessary to take advantage of these systems by delegating more tasks to support staff and demonstrating value to clients. After all, if the dentists did it, why can't we?
Dr. Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, CVPM, is CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org