Hiring a new veterinary associate can be a crucial step in the growth and success of any veterinary practice. The right candidate not only brings clinical expertise but also contributes to the overall culture and reputation of the clinic. With so much industry demand and competition, though, hiring a new associate can seem like a daunting task in today’s market. This article explores the conditions that new associates are looking for and ways that you can increase your chances of finding a good match for your practice. The three biggest driving factors for a new associate to seek out a practice are salary, benefits, and location. New graduates have a much higher debt load that causes them to seek higher paid positions and associated benefits. Personal life goals such as family planning, a partner’s career influence, and the opportunity for work-life balance can influence where they might want to practice. With these factors in mind, you can negotiate favorable terms with your associate, start your relationship with your new employee on the right foot, and lay a positive groundwork for the longevity of their career with you.
At the 2021 economic summit, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported that, for each veterinary job seeker across the United States, there were 16.8 openings with 50 percent of states receiving less than one applicant for each job opening. With these statistics, the odds of finding an associate seem slim, so how do you find that perfect needle in a haystack associate and make your practice stand out in the face of so much competition?
Let’s first look at the current market and what they’re currently getting paid. According to the AVMA market research statistics of U.S. veterinarians, there is a total number of 124,069 veterinarians in the country. Of those, 82,036 veterinarians are female, which totals 65.7 percent of the workforce. The median annual salary in 2020 was $99,250. In the 2022 Equine Medicine Salary and Lifestyle Survey, the average (mean) salary of equine veterinary practitioners was $154,217. It is interesting to note that male equine veterinarians made an average of $210,873 while female veterinarians averaged $118,637 in annual salary. An explanation for this discrepancy could be the shift from predominantly male to predominately female practitioners with males overall having more experience, which has a direct impact on salary. More specifically, in 2016-2021, 87 percent of practitioners were female in the equine field and 13 percent were male compared to before 1976 when 96 percent of practitioners were male and about 3 percent were female.
Within this same survey, a correlation between higher job satisfaction and a higher salary was found among the equine veterinarians surveyed. Those who reported that they were very satisfied with their job made an average of $193,175 in contrast to those who were somewhat dissatisfied with their job and made an average of $116,874. As far as recent graduate equine veterinarians, their average compensation was $89,000, which is far below the amount earned by people who reported they were very satisfied with their job.
To be an employer of choice for a new associate, it is important to determine what it is that your new associate is looking for. One of the biggest driving factors for looking for higher paying jobs is the current debt load of new graduates. Twenty-seven percent of recent graduates (graduating in 2016 or later) have debt that is at least quadruple what they currently earn in one year. More than one-fourth of recent graduates from 2016-2021 had debt over $300,000. Only 7 percent of those graduates make an annual income that is more than the debt that they owe.
About two-thirds of respondents that owe an amount at least triple to their annual salary are disappointed in their salary and benefits package. Furthermore, practitioners with higher debt loads are more likely to report lower levels of job satisfaction. Respondents who reported they were “very satisfied with job” made an average of $193,275 while respondents who reported they are “very dissatisfied with job” made an average of $100,556. Respondents who reported they were dissatisfied with their job felt that their salary expectations were not being met with other factors for dissatisfaction including the amount of hours required to work (including on-call time) and challenging/difficult clients. Fifty-five percent of respondents that have an educational debt load that is triple or more than their current annual salary would be unlikely to recommend an equine medicine career, reporting the long hours with low pay, their debt load, and work-life balance concerns.
So, in summary, with this amount of debt load, money is a big determinate for why an associate may choose one practice over another.
A higher salary is certainly not the sole reason to choose an employer, so what other factors can increase job satisfaction for your associate? Benefits. Attracting top talent often requires not only competitive compensation but also competitive benefits that meet industry standards in offers tailored to your practice. So, what perks can you highlight that your practice provides? Do you offer professional development opportunities, flexible scheduling, or a positive workplace culture?
The most widely provided benefits of 2022 equine survey respondents were continuing education (CE) expenses, American Association of Equine Professionals (AAEP) dues, and liability insurance. Dues for other associations, paid vacation leave, CE leave, medical insurance, retirement with a company match, and paid sick leave were the next highest. Other benefits included cell phones, company vehicles or vehicle expenses, and work clothing. Only about 10 percent of employers offered maternity leave. With over half of the workforce being female, tailoring the benefits you could offer to meet the needs of your potential associates could make your practice stand out. According to this same survey, practitioners who graduated since 2016 are the most discerning about the benefits they receive, so it will be important to consider what benefits your practice could offer to sweeten the deal for your new associate.
According to a winter 2022 article in Equine Management, many associates are looking to move back home  while plenty of female veterinarians are looking for practices in areas that allow them to have a balanced life outside of work. This could include locations that are in their hometown or around family and locations that are accommodating to their partners’ careers. Associates often prioritize locations where they can see themselves having children and raising their family with job hours that allow them to do so. Four-day work weeks are becoming increasingly common. Reports have shown that doctors working four ten-hour days earn similar revenue to what was previously earned working five days. The increase in productivity is directly correlated to having more personal time and being better rested for new veterinarians. Flexible scheduling is also an important issue for your new associate if they have plans to start a family as the majority of candidates will be women in their childbearing years. According to the AAEP survey, the average time taken away from employment for maternity leave, child rearing, or health issues (either paid or unpaid) was only one week. Eighty percent of respondents reported that their employer was accommodating about their physical safety while pregnant and meeting their needs for maternity leave. Exhibiting that your family values are a priority will help to reinforce these core values to your associate. Remaining flexible with work hours, maternity leave, and childcare and having a hard stop on emergency days will convey to your associate that you share similar values to theirs and make employment with you more desirable.
Job satisfaction will be dependent upon numerous factors. Salary and benefits lay the groundwork, work-life balance is an integral piece to the puzzle, and job-place satisfaction rounds it all out. Veterinarians seek positions that have opportunities for career growth and development. So, outline the potential paths for advancement within your practice and discuss how you support CE through CE benefits and mentorship programs. Demonstrating a commitment to the professional development of your team can be a significant factor in attracting and retaining top talent. Satisfaction in a position for your new associate is also tied to having your associates feel that they are making a positive difference in the world. Millennials expect their ideas to be considered by their employer and want to see the implementation of some of them. Spending time educating your new associate doctors on the connection between their revenue production that generates a healthy profit with high compensation can help with job satisfaction as well. Is mentorship a benefit that you can offer to associates? Mentorship programs might also be a good place to find future associates.
Where to Find Prospective Employees
The foundation of a successful mentorship is built on clear expectations. Define the purpose, goals, and scope of the mentoring relationship from the outset with your new associate. Discuss their expectations, career objectives, and any specific areas where they seek guidance. Having a shared understanding of the mentorship’s objectives helps both parties to stay focused and motivated. Lead by example and demonstrate the qualities and behaviors you wish to instill in your mentee. By exhibiting professionalism, integrity, and a commitment to continuous learning, your actions will speak louder than words. Being a positive role model sets a standard for your mentee to emulate in their own professional journey. Because trust is the cornerstone of any mentorship, try to create a safe and confidential space that enables open communication. Share your experiences, including your own challenges and failures, to establish sincere authenticity. Encourage your mentee to express their concerns and aspirations, and actively listen without judgment. A trusting relationship fosters a supportive environment where mentees feel comfortable seeking guidance.
A mentorship is also a route through which new associates could be drawn to your practice. By offering externships to veterinary students, you could begin to foster new relationships that will lead to future successful associates. As externships are usually taken while on breaks from school and in areas of interest for future practice, try to engage with veterinary schools to find prospective externs and create mentorship relationships. A good mentorship relationship through an externship program will help to funnel prospects directly to you who will be looking for future jobs in the area of your practice.
When creating a post for an open associate position, it is worth noting that the effectiveness of the post can be significantly enhanced by incorporating descriptive, catchy, or humorous titles, according to an AVMA poll. Buzz words for new associates include team-centered, collaborative, flexible, and supportive. When seeking to fill an associate position, consider investing time into a post with a standout title and description.
How to Negotiate Terms into a Contract
Negotiation is a fundamental skill in both personal and professional spheres, allowing individuals to navigate conflicts, reach agreements, and foster positive relationships. While many negotiations are external interactions, mastering an intrinsic negotiation technique involves the self-awareness necessary for achieving win-win outcomes. It will be important to negotiate using an intrinsic negotiation strategy with your associate. Intrinsic negotiation is a dynamic and introspective process that empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of their own thoughts, emotions, and values Agreeing upon terms within the contract for your new associate will be dependent on these intrinsic negotiation tactics. Intrinsic negotiation is an ongoing process that requires flexibility and adaptability. Being open to reassessing priorities, adjusting goals, and embracing change contributes to a more agile and resilient intrinsic negotiation process.
What to Avoid
While letters of intent and employment agreements remain critical for settling on agreeable terms, most new associates will avoid any unfavorable terms in a contract. There are too many options for them to agree to terms that will not suit them. Two of the main culprits that could make a deal undesirable for a new associate are non-competes and negative accrual.
Non-compete clauses in contracts have become a contentious issue with widespread reluctance to accept these terms. Employees are often hesitant to accept non-compete clauses because they value career flexibility, worry about the impact on their future opportunities, and seek positions that align with their professional and entrepreneurial aspirations. Some employees may perceive non-compete clauses as a lack of trust from the employer. Fostering a culture of loyalty, trust, and open communication may be more appealing to employees than relying on restrictive contractual agreements. Balancing the interests of employers and employees is crucial to creating fair and mutually beneficial employment agreements.
If paying your new associate on production, leave out negative accrual where, during slow months, the amount by which they didn’t reach production goals would be taken out of future monthly bonuses. Besides the monetary impact, negative accrual often limits an employee’s flexibility in taking time off and has a negative impact on employee morale, which would negatively impact overall well-being and productivity. Practices that implement negative accrual policies may face challenges in retaining talented employees. A lack of flexibility and the financial consequences associated with negative production balances may drive employees to seek opportunities with more employee-friendly policies.
Particularly in the veterinary industry where talent retention is competitive, non-compete and negative accrual policies can put an employer at a disadvantage. Companies that offer more flexible and positive time-off accrual systems may be more attractive to prospective employees. So, employers should carefully consider the implications of such policies on their workforce and explore alternatives that promote a healthy work-life balance and positive employee experiences.
Being aware of what current job seekers are looking for in a position will help you to be competitive in the current market. Associates are most satisfied with a salary and benefit package that helps to alleviate their educational debt with a work schedule that provides them with a balanced work-life lifestyle. A continued mentorship, perhaps through externship programs, is a direct way to find future candidate associates. Being honest about your practice, what the area offers, and what your priorities are as a business owner are the best ways to find that perfect match and retain the right associate.
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- A report of findings: 2022 Equine Medicine Salary and Lifestyle Survey conducted on behalf of The American Association of Equine Practitioners
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- Compensation | AAEP
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- A report of findings: 2022 Equine Medicine Salary and Lifestyle Survey conducted on behalf of The American Association of Equine Practitioners