The Business of Practice Podcast: Tips to Attract and Retain Equine Veterinarians and Staff

In this podcast, Dr. Mike Pownall talks about the difficulties of attracting and retaining veterinarians and staff in equine practice.
vet head under laptop unhappy
“2022 was ‘The Year of the Shrinking Vet Practice,’ ” quipped Dr. Mike Pownall. “We are in this position for a while; it’s not going away.” iStock photo

“2022 was ‘The Year of the Shrinking Vet Practice,’ ” quipped Mike Pownall, DVM, MBA, a partner in McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Canada and a partner in Oculus Insights. “We are in this position for a while; it’s not going away.”

So if we are finding it nearly impossible to hire new staff, the question is: What can we do to retain staff?

“We need to take care of the staff we have instead of having to replace them,” said Pownall. “It sounds simple, but people are complex. This is not a North American problem!”

Pownall said we are “fighting over scant resources. The profession is going to have to make structural changes. We need to look in the mirror as a profession and recognize we need to do things differently.”

Pownall said support staff are taken for granted at many equine practices. “Veterinarians think, ‘If someone leaves, I’ll get get another.’ But that’s not easy.” He said during the pandemic, a lot of support people left work. “We lost a lot of women [from veterinary support positions] who are coming back into the workforce in other positions to det paid more.

“We are competing against everybody!” he stressed.

In the short term, Pownall said veterinary practice owners will make less money because they will be forced to pay more for support staff. “You can raise prices, but there is a ceiling,” said Pownall.

Veterinarians

He said one block to getting vet students who enter vet school enthusiastic about equine practice and graduate with negative feelings toward the profession is that professors are “down” on equine practice.

“We lost two veterinarians last year to small animal practice,” said Pownall. He said there are many reasons for that shift from equine to small animal, including being tired of long hours, emergency duty, more pay for small animal work, and how equine practices are structured

He said solutions to not overworking veterinarians might mean not taking on new clients, better use of telemedicine, or switching to having clients haul in to the clinic for routine work.

Pownall now conducts “stay interviews” every quarter with his associates. He said he asks them:

  • What do you look forward to doing?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • Why do you stay with us?
  • When was the last time you thought of leaving?
  • What can we do to make your job better?

He said practice owners “have the power to change the tide.”

Learn more from Pownall in this episode of The Business of Practice podcast, brought to you by CareCredit.

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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