Some models of pay don't pay
As graduation approaches, my mind is a whirlwind of questions, concerns, and hopes. I'm ready to practice—mostly. Yet there's one topic that leaves me wary: salary. While production-based compensation and traditional salary historically have been the only two options, they each have room for improvement. But there's a third choice: the ProSal formula, developed by Hospital Management Editor Mark Opperman, CVPM. To understand why I think ProSal is right for me and other new associates, consider these pros and cons.
Comparing the options
The biggest appeal of being paid on a percentage of production is the potential to make more money. Doctors with successful business skills and the ability to sell high-quality services make more. As a charter member of the Cornell Veterinary Business Management Association and as a veteran of the business world, I appreciate the importance of communication skills that can help get a client on board with a treatment plan. I also appreciate knowing how I'm contributing to the business. And tracking production will help me see that.Yet I'm still concerned about striking the right balance. I've heard of associates generating $1 million in revenue and earning $150,000 or more annually. But at what price?
I also believe production-based pay has the potential to stimulate unhealthy competition. When working at a leverage-buyout firm, I personally experienced unhealthy competition; it made me physically ill—and motivated me to switch careers.
I know that not all practices operating under this system see unhealthy competition, but there's always the risk. Plus, if a veterinarian's obsessed with the bottom dollar, then he or she might feel reluctant to participate in activities that preclude him or her from generating more revenue, such as continuing education and staff meetings. Yet these activities are critical to success in practice.
I want to be a great veterinarian—and a great husband and father. I'm 31 years old and married, and I have a 2-year old son and two dogs. That means my life passed through hectic and arrived at crazy a while ago. This all makes a traditional salary look attractive. It might lend itself to more defined work hours, so I could spend more time with my family.
Plus, many almost-graduates worry that they don't have sufficient medical knowledge to provide the best level of care as efficiently as a more experienced doctor could. This fear is somewhat allayed with a traditional salary because the compensation will remain constant as I develop stronger medical skills.
Another great appeal of traditional salary is that it keeps the veterinarian focused on good medicine. The motivating factor for a procedure will be that it's the best course of medical or diagnostic management, not that it brings in the most money to the associate or the clinic.
The downside to a traditional salary: A hard-working, well-skilled doctor could make the same salary as an unmotivated, poorly trained one.
The middle ground
There is a third choice that's becoming more popular: ProSal, which pays associates a percentage of their production with a minimum salary. So an associate's guaranteed salary could be $75,000, but that associate could earn $112,000 based on his or her production. (See "Salary vs. Production" for more.)
This method seems the best to me; it provides security and opportunity. And with all my other concerns about starting in practice, I'd be happy not to have to worry about pay.