The Business of Practice: Equine Veterinary Compensation

Get tips on hiring and retaining equine veterinarians in this environment where there are more jobs than veterinarians to fill them.
African-American equine vet with horse owner
Practice owners need to keep the work/life balance in check for veterinarians and staff, sometimes at the expense of giving up some services or income. iStock photo

“We are in competition with small animal and other vets” when we are trying to hire veterinarians, noted Mike Pownall, DVM, MBA. Pownall is a partner in McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Canada and a partner in Oculus Insights. “I realized several years ago that vets talk to each other,” he noted. “they talk to classmates and find small animal colleagues are making more money and working less hours. So we changed our pricing structure. We need to be close to (what is offered to) small animal vets.

“We aren’t the only game in town,” he concluded.

In this episode of The Business of Practice Podcast, we talked about:

  • How does compensation fit into finding, hiring, and keeping equine veterinarians at a practice?
  • What does compensation look like today?
  • Beyond money
  • How has compensation changed in the past 10-20 years?
  • What type of compensation is needed to attract and retain equine veterinarians today

Pownall said the usual reason people leave a position is usually not over money. They leave because they have “a bad boss or bad working environment,” said Pownall. “People are realizing that with the shortage of veterinarian, they are in the driver’s seat.”

He said if you want to hire a veterinarian, you need to be in tune with money, but also with other things like on call time and student loans. “You have to be creative” when it comes to what you will offer a veterinarian. “People want different things. With some it is schedule, some it is days off, some it is how clients are charged.”

Pownall said if you don’t know what a veterinarian is looking for as far as benefits, ask. “You don’t have to stick to the traditional framework,” he said.

Pownall said the days of “production pay” or commission-based compensation are drawing to a close. “It’s hard to create a culture of cooperation when each vet has to get production for themselves.

“In our culture, we pay a salary,” said Pownall. “We have a good work environment and good people who work hard. That change was transformative” to his practice, he said. “We didn’t want a bunch of solo practitioners working for one practice.”

He said that structure allows senior veterinarians to help newer vets without losing the culture.

Another thing his practice has done is go to a week where four days are spent with clients and the fifth is spent off of client calls so they can do medical records or catch up. (There are several other specifics on the veterinarians’ schedules at his practice that Pownall talks about in the podcast.)

Retaining Veterinarians

“Typically when someone is offering up a boatload of money it is usually because they have a hard time hanging on to people,” said Pownall. “Probably, the work environment is not good. But there could be a lot of other factors.”

Pownall said veterinarians want to feel appreciated and that the practice has their backs if an issue arises with a client. They also want to grow as vets.

He noted that the dissatisfaction with the profession of equine veterinary medicine has been developing over a number of years. He said that was happening before the pandemic. “The pandemic opened the wound and exposed it,” he said.

In order to be competitive in your area with small animal veterinarians, you need to offer salaries close to those of small animal practitioners, said Pownall. He added that you might need to raise fees to pay for new veterinarians.

What else might you have to do as the practice owner? Keep the work/life balance in check for your staff, sometimes at the expense of giving up some services or income.

Pownall gave an example: His practice had been the on-call vet for the biggest horse show circuit for 10-15 years. “Our vets are busy, and the horse show emergencies were proving to be too much,” said Pownall. “We are still growing.” So, the practice decided to give up that horse show gig.

In your practice, he said, it might mean you need to get rid of clients who are disrespectful.

Learn more from Pownall on this important topic by listening to the entire podcast.

Disclaimer: This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other medical providers with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in the article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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