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Compendium April 2010 (Vol 32, No 4)

In Practice—Is It Time to Add a New Associate?

by Stith Keiser, Jessica Goodman Lee

    Getting It Right the First Time Around

    Adding another doctor to your team—and your payroll—is an expensive and time-consuming task, and your motives for doing so should be well thought out in advance. Before you embark on a search for a new associate, you need to ask yourself many questions, not the least of which is, "What am I hoping to gain by adding another veterinarian to my team?"

    The most common reason for hiring a new associate is growth: simply put, your client and patient base is growing rapidly, and you no longer have the ability to see patients in a timely and efficient manner. Your choice then becomes (1) limit your client base or (2) risk decreasing the quality of your services due to overbooking and overextension. If you are not understaffed in other areas, and your team members are being leveraged appropriately, then it is probably time to add a new veterinarian.

    There are other motives for bringing on a new veterinarian that aren't related to supply and demand. These can be identified by questions such as the following:

    • As an owner, are you looking to decrease your own hours to have more personal time?
    • Are you specifically seeking someone that is interested in eventual partnership or ownership potential?
    • Are you anticipating another associate going on maternity leave or going part-time?
    • Do you want to increase revenue by expanding the practice's hours of operation, and you need someone to fill these shifts?
    • Are you reevaluating services and looking for someone with a particular area of interest so that you can develop a niche market?

    Whatever your reasons, it is important to recognize them so that you can set attainable goals and ensure that you are hiring someone who can meet your needs. For example, if you are a practice owner who is motivated to hire by a desire to spend more time with family and friends, bringing on a new graduate who requires strong mentorship and coaching would not be a good choice. In fact, statistics show that new graduates often change jobs three to four times within 5 years after graduation, citing lack of mentorship, and thus unmet expectations, as their primary reason for leaving.1 On the other hand, if you have a 5-year exit strategy but intend to keep working a full-time schedule for the next few years, taking the time to mentor a new graduate who is potentially interested in future ownership can be a great choice.

    Simply put, if you want to avoid making an expensive mistake, it is crucial that you are aware of both your long- and short-term motives for adding a new associate to your team.

    Getting Your Practice In Shape

    Once you know why you want to add a new associate, it's time to get an accurate practice "pulse" to determine whether your practice is strong enough, mature enough, and organized enough to bring on a new key player. Evaluating this ahead of time can mean the difference between a productive, long-term relationship and one in which at least one of the parties suffers from disenchantment and frustration. When the latter happens, the relationship is over before it ever really had a chance to take off.

    While there is no magic formula for attracting the best and brightest, undertaking the following pre-hire projects will greatly increase the chances of meeting and keeping the "perfect" match (they'll also boost the bottom line!).

    Conduct a Practice Culture Evaluation

    There are a multitude of reasons to conduct regular practice culture evaluations, but if you are looking to bring on a new veterinarian, it is crucial to evaluate your practice before beginning the search process. What was the last time your employees had the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns? You may think you are attuned to the culture and climate of your practice, but your impression may not coincide with that of your staff. Exceptional Veterinary Team (myEVT), created by the publishers of Clinician's Brief, is a publication dedicated to teaching veterinary professionals about leadership in veterinary medicine. At the 2010 North American Veterinary Conference, MyEVT announced that the most common reason new employees leave a practice is a negative relationship with their supervisor, while peer conflict was cited as the second most common factor of turnover. Learning to evaluate team dynamics by surveying your staff enables you to spot and remedy bad behaviors and situations before they become overtly poisonous.

    When conducting a practice culture evaluation, it is critical that you assure your staff that the process is completely anonymous and that there will be no negative repercussions. This means that the evaluation cannot be facilitated in-house. Fortunately, there are some simple resources available to help you conduct an unbiased evaluation:

    • Consulting services. These services customize an online evaluation for your employees to complete via e-mail. Once the surveys are completed, the consultant takes the data and provides you with a final report that integrates all of the information obtained.
    • Online survey software. These programs help you build your own evaluation. However, remember that the key is to have someone outside the practice administer and receive the results.

    Regardless of which road you choose, the cost will be minimal compared to the cost of high turnover.

    Understanding your practice's culture will not only improve the working environment for your current staff but also help you attract the right candidates during the interviewing process. More and more attention is being given, both at national conferences and in veterinary schools, to the topic of practices and candidates seeking the right fit in a position. Top-notch associates are being coached on how to screen practices, and they are learning to quickly pick up on any dissatisfaction or unhealthy undercurrents within a practice.

    Upgrade Your Web Site to Attract Top Talent

    Here's a fact that is often overlooked: having a strong Web site can have a tremendous effect on a practice's ability to attract top talent. An impressive Web site is a huge draw for job seekers and can easily make the difference between an associate opting to work for you versus accepting another offer.

    Most of us are savvy enough to know that online advertising is the best way to search for a new employee. The natural progression for a job seeker who finds an intriguing posting is to then navigate to the practice's Web site for more information. So why did the newly released Veterinarian New Media Usage Study,2 which surveyed 425 small and large animal veterinarians, find that only 70% of small animal practitioners and 43% of large animal veterinarians have a practice Web site—yet all of these practices spend money on online job postings?

    Without an informative, attractive, and well-written site to access, top-notch candidates will often not bother to submit a résumé. Why? Because regardless of whether it is true, they assume that a practice that does not take the time to have a Web site is also a practice that hasn't taken the time to update its medicine, equipment, or facilities. And remember, whether this is a fair or accurate assumption is irrelevant, since you'll never have the opportunity to see their résumé and show them otherwise.

    There is a second way that a quality Web site can be used as a tool for attracting top talent. Take a look at it from your angle, as the employer seeking an employee. A candidate who arrives for an interview and initiates a conversation by saying "I saw this on your Web site" or "I have a question about that" should spark your interest far more than one who hasn't taken the time to research your practice. When an applicant hasn't bothered to do his or her "homework" before an interview, it should send up a flag that further questioning is needed to determine whether this lack of initiative may be indicative of job performance down the line. Ask yourself whether this person really wants to work for you, or whether he or she just needs a job—any job.

    If you're looking to create or update your Web site, some veterinary-specific online services exist to help you do so. One of these is Vetstreet, a powerful collection of tools and resources for veterinary practices, including a searchable database of client educational articles, customizable marketing materials, and custom Web sites backed up by unlimited tech support. Vetstreet Web sites are easy to maintain and update. Vetstreet Pet Portals, an additional service from Vetstreet, enable your practice to interact with existing and prospective clients through a seamless client communication platform that facilitates e-mail and postal reminders, delivers pet health articles, and provides personalized, online Pet Portal accounts.

    Add the "Wow" Factor

    The last step is simple: freshen the exam rooms with a new coat of paint, brighten up the lobby, purchase the digital dental radiology system your team has wanted for years…you get the picture. The fact is that these things matter! So whatever you need to do, no matter how simple, to give yourself an edge by adding that "wow" factor, do it before you get started on your search for a new associate. Always keep in mind that top-notch candidates who are in the market for a new position often have several offers from which to choose, and you need to impress them just as much as they need to impress you.

    Average hospitals practice average medicine and attract average talent. Today's economy has taught us that average just won't cut it, and practices that have been fortunate enough to continue experiencing growth cite both their team and their level of client service as the keys to success. While there may be an increased number of candidates looking for work, upon review you'll find that exceptional associates are still the exception, and there are no more of them out there than 2 years ago. If you've done all of the things discussed above, you will greatly enhance the chances of attracting some of these "exceptions."

    Stith Keiser is CEO of My Veterinary Career, and Jessica Goodman Lee is a matchmaking consultant for the company.

    1. Jelinski MD, Campbell JR, MacGregor MW, Watts JM. Factors associated with veterinarians' career path choices in the early postgraduate period. Can Vet J 2009;50(9):943-948.

    2. Veterinarian New Media Usage Survey. Kansas City, MO: Nicholson Kovac; 2009. Available at www.nicholsonkovac.com/#/other/vetstudy-detail.

    References »

    NEXT: Radiation Therapy in Horses

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