Your checklist for hiring a veterinary associate

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Your checklist for hiring a veterinary associate

Before looking outward and lamenting a tight job market, look inward at your work as a practice owner, the reputation of your practice, and what you’re offering. Do the work, and the applicants will follow …
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Jun 20, 2018

Is this the off-ramp to your veterinary practice? If it's not, why so surprised you can't find a great new doctor? (Shutterstock.com)Have you been trying to hire a new veterinarian in your practice and been unsuccessful? Well, you’re not alone. It's definitely harder to hire veterinarians today than it has been in a long time, yet some practices are successful at it.

So … why them and not you? Let’s see what these practices are doing that might help you to be more successful in hiring a new associate DVM.

1. Practice of choice

Veterinary medicine is a small profession and if you treat your employees well, create a positive work environment, and make sure your employees are happy and motivated, word gets around. On the other hand, if you have a negative work environment and treat employees as disposable, then that will get around too.

I know of several practices that have no trouble finding new veterinarians or technicians. These practices have earned a reputation for treating employees well, and those current and former employees speak highly of the practice on Facebook, at industry meetings and to fellow colleagues. These are practice of choices—people affirmatively choose to work there.

If you were a veterinarian looking for a job and you asked employees what they thought about your practice, what would they say? Would they recommend that you work there? If you're not practice of choice today, what could you do to become one?

2. Compensation and benefits

What type of compensation do you offer a new associate? You have the choice of a flat salary, production or a mixture of the two (I call my version ProSal). According to Benchmarks: A Study of Well-Managed Practices in 2016, 68 percent of veterinarians wanted to be paid using a base-salary-plus-production method of compensation. An associate paid on ProSal can’t make less than the guaranteed base salary—they can only make more.

Now, what about benefits? Check the market. I like using Payscale.com, which gets payroll and employee benefit information from the various payroll companies. You can actually put in your ZIP code and get information regarding salaries paid and benefits offered at veterinary practices in your area.

What if you found out that other practices in your area are offering 15 or 20 days of PTO (paid time off) a year? Would it be worth it to you to offer a few more days to entice a new associate to your practice? What if other practices offer five days and up to $1,000 for continuing education? Would it be worth it to offer more if that would attract a new hire? The cost of a few more days of time off may be a lot less than not being able to hire a new veterinarian.

3. Mentorship and training

If you ask any new graduate what scares them the most about starting a new job, other than killing a patient, their answer will likely be that they fear you’ll hire them and then immediately go on vacation for two weeks, leaving them all by themselves. If you’re looking for a new grad, one of the things they’re looking for is mentorship. They want a structured program that will ease them into the job. They don’t want to be thrown to the wolves in a new position.

When we consult with practices, we institute a four-week training program for any new team member being hired, including veterinarians. We set up a step-by-step, week-by-week program of training called phased training. (Here’s a sample of what it might look like for a receptionist, and you can find more examples in this book.) This method of training allows for an effective introduction into your practice, and we find that it greatly cuts down on employee turnover. You might be wise to develop a phased training program for your new veterinarian. You might even send it to applicants so they can see that you have a formal program.

4. Signing bonus and relocation bonus

Many successful practices hiring a new veterinarian offer these incentives.

A signing bonus is normally paid after three months of successful employment by your associate. It can range from $1,000 to $10,000, but I normally see $3,000 to $5,000.

A relocation bonus is paid at the time the employee signs the contract or within the first month of employment. This bonus can also be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

Some practices offer both a signing and a relocation bonus, depending on where the veterinarian is coming from and how much they want to hire a new veterinarian.

5. Getting the word out

The days of placing a job ad in one veterinary journal and waiting for the resumes to roll in are long gone. Today, successful practices use LinkedIn, Facebook ads, Jobcast, CareerBuilder, Monster and ZipRecruiter. Many of these websites will also post on multiple industry sites (AVMA, AAHA, veterinary school websites), so check on the reach for your ad placed.

Now, let’s talk about your ad. Does it excite you? Would you want to jump up and contact the practice to find out more? Many of the ads I read are very vanilla—they all sound the same. What makes your practice special? What makes your community special? Do these unique qualities appear in your ad? Make sure you stand out from the rest. (Want to know more? I wrote about this last year.)

6. Website

Speaking of standing out from the rest, if your ad does capture someone’s attention, the next thing they’ll probably do is visit your website. What will they find there?

Many websites are far from impressive, and that could turn off possible applicants. Is your website up-to-date? I visited a website a few months ago, and they had an ad for Pet Dental Health Month up from a year before!

I want to see a virtual practice on your website, not simply pictures that scroll by. I want to see high-quality video that shows that your practice is high-tech and cutting-edge. An awesome website is not only going to help you to attract new employees, but new clients as well. It’s an area practices need to invest in.

7. Quality of life

To our new generation of veterinarians, quality of life is paramount. They want to be paid well, but it’s sometimes even more important that they have time off to spend with their family and that they aren’t required to work late into the evening finishing records or seeing emergencies. Many veterinarians of my generation have a problem with this and feel that the new veterinarian should “pay their dues.” They see the new generation as being spoiled and demanding.

I think the new generation of veterinarians has it right.

I’ve spoken to too many veterinarians who worked 60-to-80-hour weeks and sacrificed their family life, missing all their kids’ football and soccer games and time together, only to regret it later in life. Of course, I think some of our newer veterinarians are unrealistic about how much they’ll make for how few hours, but the older generation needs to meet them halfway.

If you’re looking for a new veterinarian and having trouble finding one, maybe you need to look at yourself, your practice and your hiring process. There are veterinarians are out there looking for jobs. Now, let’s see if you can make your practice a practice of choice so yours is the one they want to work at.

Mark Opperman, CVPM, is owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm based in Evergreen Colorado. Opperman founded the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association and served as president until 1993. He also co-wrote The Art of Veterinary Practice Management, in its second edition, available now.