Hiring a new veterinarian for your clinic can be a challenge. And nothing is more frustrating than going through this process only to have your new hire leave the practice in the first year.
Just like we do for our cattle feeders when they are getting new calves in, rather than wait for the wreck to occur we need to ask, “How can we prevent this?”
Often we turn to human resource gurus or grizzled veterans of the veterinary profession for employee retention advice. However, I’d like to offer a fresh perspective. As a recent graduate of 2013, I’ve seen my peers who have moved or stayed, as well as the reasons for their choices. By combining this with research from the Canadian Veterinary Journal on career path changes among new graduates, I compiled some tips on how to keep your new hire at your practice.
Like selecting the right calves to put into your feedyard, retaining a new hire begins with hiring the right person. However, there are a couple factors unique to beef practice that will help you select a long-term employee. Our field asks for demanding physical labor, which is abnormal for the level of education associates have obtained. In addition, it typically occurs in rural areas removed from amenities most Americans are accustomed to.
To remedy this, it will take more than offering a higher salary to snag the right person. The aforementioned study, titled “Factors associated with veterinarians’ career path choices in the early postgraduate period” (Jelinski, 2009), concluded that neither above-average pay nor having the newest equipment increased employee retention. Instead, learn from prospective associates what their priorities are and tailor your job offer to them based on those priorities.
For example, when I was in the job hunt, my wife was finishing vet school five hours away. My current employer offered a half day off on the Friday afternoons before my weekends off. This allowed me to reach my wife’s apartment in the daylight and spend the evening with her, as opposed to arriving late that night. It was a major decision factor in why I selected the clinic I did. Your offer to prospective associates should focus on their special circumstances. While the basic package may be the same between associates, during contract negotiation these individual preferences can be ironed out.
This does not mean that salary is not a major point. Be competitive, which means at least meet the average compensation for the candidate’s experience, but job-seekers quickly recognize the highest salary is often highest for a reason. Conversely, hiring someone who “doesn’t care about the money” is a poor business decision. If they don’t care about their own money, they won’t care about your finances either and consequently will discover new and clever ways to unintentionally lose your clinic money.
If your practice is in a remote area, which by American standards is more than 15 minutes from 24-hour big-box stores, consider both the potential associate and their spouse when hiring. Just because the veterinarian of the relationship is excited about rural living, if his or her spouse detests open spaces you will lose an associate in a short time. That means it’s best to take time to meet the spouse of the potential associate during the interview. Obviously there is a fine line in what you can ask, but if you get the feeling that living more than 45 miles from a good sushi restaurant will cause strife in their marriage, it might be prudent to consider other candidates.
Many potential hires seem great after working with them for one day. However, according to Dr. Nels Lindberg, owner of the Animal Medical Center/Production Animal Consultation in Great Bend, Kansas, and an EntreLeadership master, a candidate will show their “true colors” if you work with them for several days. He recommends at least three days for an interview, but prefers an entire week.
And since a week is really not time enough, Dr. Lindberg also recommends reaching out to the people that know the candidate well by contacting the references listed on their resume. Busy practitioners often overlook this step, however, if a person that is supposed to vouch for your potential hire is tepid in their support, that is a red flag you want to catch before you offer a position.
Once you’ve hired that perfect associate, the next step is to create the environment that helps him or her grow as a professional and plug in to your practice. We will cover that topic in detail in the summer issue of BEEF Vet.