As veterinary medicine continues to evolve, I can't help but wonder if the future of mixed practice is doomed. Sure, plenty
of successful mixed practices are flourishing across the country, and new graduates are still signing on as associates, ready
to be multi-focused. But there appears to be a shift among recent graduates that threatens the future of small animal/equine
practices everywhere. These trends won't surprise you, but they may account for why you're finding it harder and harder to
hire dedicated mixed animal associates.
WHAT NEW GRADUATES WANT
For several years we've seen a slow evolution in new graduates' priorities. Years ago associates were mostly male, had designs
on becoming a partner at the earliest opportunity, and expected to "pay their dues" when first employed. According to many
practice owners and managers, that's no longer the case. Most new graduates are women, neither gender seems as concerned with
partnership, and employment terms are centered around the benefits available now rather than later.
In an industry known for sending new graduates into practice with the heavy weight of school loans, salary has always been
a concern. Several years ago, that may have been the principal concern, along with how the new doctor would "fit" into a specific
practice. Today, while salary remains a top concern, there are many others—some that make mixed practice less attractive.
Flex and family time. A growing concern among new veterinarians is the balance between home and work. The older generation of veterinarians (especially
equine doctors) would expect to arrive at home after the work was finished. Period. There were fewer multi-doctor practices,
and veterinarians enjoyed an extremely personal relationship with their clients—some doctors practicing out of their homes.
While members of the younger generation also pride themselves on their client relationships, there is more separation from
work and a greater expectation of home time.
It's easy to point to the changing gender demographic among graduates to explain this dynamic, but many men are just as likely
as women to prioritize their time at home.
In increasing numbers, new veterinarians are looking for employment at a practice that will allow unscripted changes in schedule,
the flexibility to leave early or come in late if family needs arise, or simply fewer hours worked in the week. Unfortunately,
new associates don't always equate fewer hours with less pay. Dr. Don Howard of Twin Oaks Veterinary Hospital, a mixed animal
practice in Salem, Ore., agrees. Many new associates "want more benefits, fewer hours of work per week, and an increase in
pay to compensate for the time they're not working," he says.
While many practice owners are adapting their job offers accordingly—whether they like it or not—the reduction of work hours
can lead to other practice challenges. Dr. Howard says that becoming a better-than-average veterinarian is tied to the caseload
and intensive learning curve that's typical of an associate's first year or two. Slowing down that natural development makes
it more difficult to "achieve success, respect from clients and peers, and the ability to practice quality medicine for the
patients," Dr. Howard says. While an associate will still get to the necessary level of expertise, it may take longer, which
becomes a financial consideration when negotiating a contract.