As it has become much more difficult to hire associates for positions in equine practices, practice owners have been evaluating the benefits they offer. In many companion animal practices, an array of benefits accompany robust salaries, making these positions outside of the equine space even more attractive. At some corporately owned small animal practices, these benefits include a choice of multiple health insurance programs, dental and vision insurance, disability and life insurance, flexible spending accounts (FSA), 401K match, national coupon program, employee assistance and travel programs, and many other perks.
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In order to be reasonably competitive with these positions, equine practices need to consider what is really important to applicants. The majority (~70%) of graduates entering equine practice have educational debt, which in 2019 was an average of $183,302. Many are starting or already have young families. About 83% of all new veterinary graduates are female, according to the 2020 AVMA Senior Survey, and they reported a mean age of 28. Only a quarter are married at the time of their graduation. When considering all graduates, not just those entering the equine space, the average number of hours they were expected to work each week in full-time private practice was 45 hours. A little more than half of the study respondents reported they would receive a signing bonus—these averaged $7,800 for males and $9,400 for females. In addition, more than a third reported receiving a moving allowance of about $3,000. Student loan repayment assistance was reported by about 15%.
Because associate veterinarians do not typically have individual business entities set up, the expenses associated with their employment are not tax deductible to them. Practices that pay for the expense of state veterinary licenses, DEA licenses, professional liability insurance, and memberships to veterinary associations (state VMA, AVMA, AAEP, etc.) can write these expenses off against revenue. Equine practices will be much more attractive to applicants if they pay these expenses. While associates typically expect that these items will be paid by the practice, the AVMA survey showed that only about 75% paid for licenses, about 65% for liability insurance, and about 60% for association dues. Continuing education expenses were provided by about 75% of practices.
Robust benefit packages can make the difference between attracting and retaining an associate, and not being able to fill a position. Offering health insurance, an employer match to a tax-deferred retirement plan (SIMPLE, 401K), generous paid time off, and a continuing education allowance are ways to keep applicants considering a position. With emergency work necessary in equine practices, paying additional compensation for each emergency call is essential. Adding a signing bonus, moving stipend, shortened work week, maternity/paternity leave, educational loan repayment assistance, and a profit-sharing plan can set your practice apart from others.
The needs and desires of current associates might be very different than what practice owners experienced at the start of their careers. High educational debt, demographic changes and generational differences have shaped the new challenges that the veterinary industry is facing. Being creative and flexible with accepting change will serve practices well in this environment.
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