Much has been written this year about the challenges in hiring a new veterinarian into many practices. As the profession’s proverbial rockstars, DVMs (and VMDs) understandably get a lot of airtime when issues affect them. Yet, beyond the jaw-dropping signing bonuses and increasing persistence of “recruiters” lurking out there for vets, a hiring frenzy is rapidly developing in another part of the profession that could prove even more daunting for practices of all shapes and sizes: technicians.
Many factors stand to make this battleground for talent even more frenetic than what we see for DVMs. Peering through the lens of an economist, the foundational forces of supply and demand are growing increasingly imbalanced for clinical support staff and stand to trigger all kinds of tactics to capture the best talent. Let us consider the following:
The market for veterinary services presently has a voracious appetite for doctor hours. Pet owners increasingly want to be seen on weekends and evenings, for example. Ambitious new corporate groups are looking to open practices inside some “big box” retailers. All of this activity requires more doctor hours, and in turn, more technician hours too. However, the need for techs grows exponentially when it is difficult to add the doctor hours.
Why? Well, if there is excess demand for appointment slots, and I’m unable to add more doctor time, I need to figure out how to make my existing doctor time more productive. The way to do that is by offloading some of their responsibility to – you guessed it – technicians. In economics, this theory is referred to as the Division of Labor, and it underpins the concept of enhanced labor productivity. It also contrasts with reality at too many of today’s veterinary practices where too much clinical responsibility is concentrated at the doctor level. Techs are capable of more than just holding the patient and printing the invoice! This approach to clinical operations renders it impossible to meet the demand of pet owners.
How does a practice deal with this issue when it doesn’t want to rework its team’s entire workflow overnight? I suspect we’ll see three approaches, in order of their prevalence:
- Just hire more technicians. (Historically, this is the default action when trying to alleviate DVM workload)
- Do nothing and struggle to grow patient numbers. (GretelVet’s team just shivered in frustration reading this one)
- “Upgrade” the team by poaching all-star techs away from competitors (yes, some practices will go this route)
While the profession needs a tidal wave of uber-talented new technicians, the occupation isn’t set up for it today. Why? Well, it isn’t easy being a veterinary technician. You embark on a technical career that requires specific schooling and on-the-job experience. You aren’t salaried, and your hourly pay rate is typically confined to a narrow range that in many parts of the country isn’t sufficient to support a family. There is a ceiling to your professional development that is opaque, to say the least. Depending on the practice you work at, you can feel very professionally unfulfilled relative to your training. The job can take an immense emotional toll. Switching careers altogether isn’t all that risky either. This type of environment makes it difficult to attract droves of new people to the profession and keep them there. Something fundamental would need to change, and without a concerted effort from a profession that is undeniably DVM-centric, it’s hard to see that happening as quickly as it needs to meet the demands of practices for technician hours.
As you can surmise, there is no quick fix for the veterinary industry
Over time, professional development and higher wages can solve many systemic issues, but don’t count on either happening in 2021. For the independent practice looking to navigate through this turbulent time, there are a handful of tactics to consider:
- Hire smart – if you need a new technician, focus on the skills you need to complement your doctor team. Focus the interview process around assessing the capability of candidates for those skill sets. And don’t be miserly when it comes to compensation!
- Invest in your team – we’re not talking about tens of thousands of dollars here. Be thoughtful around which skills you wish the team had, and spend a Sunday afternoon researching CE that addresses that wishlist. This requires you to think of CE, not as a check-the-box license requirement best done in a sunny vacation spot, but as a value-adding training experience meant to benefit your teammates and the practice today and over the longer-term.
- Chip away at your DVMs’ workload – if doctors at your practice shoulder too much, nudge them to shed the smaller stuff. Change is hard. It takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a new workflow won’t be either. But you have to start somewhere…
How a veterinary practice consultant could help…
Hiring and retaining great employees at your veterinary practice is one of those mission-critical objectives that need to be an ongoing focus of the practice owner and manager. Our team of veterinary practice consultants can enhance your people strategy through projects, such as:
- Crafting a strong hiring plan, along with a persuasive job description, to drive great candidates to apply for open positions.
- Advising on a person-by-person, and overall team, professional development plan to create a stellar, cohesive practice culture
To learn about how Gretel can help you and your team, click here.