The Business of Practice: Veterinarian Hiring

Finding, hiring and retaining equine veterinarians is difficult in today's market, according to The Vet Recruiter's Stacy Pursell.

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Finding, hiring and retaining equine veterinarians is difficult in today’s market. Thinkstock

In episode 51 of The Business of Practice podcast, we talk about Veterinarian Hiring with Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter. Her group is the leading Veterinary and Animal Health executive search and recruitment firm.

Following are some excerpts from this “don’t miss” podcast about veterinarian hiring!

Host Kim Brown: “Stacy, you’ve been an executive recruiter for 25 years, and you’re considered a workplace and workforce expert…What is happening in the job market right now in terms of veterinarians and the Veterinary profession?”

Pursell: “Let’s start with the unemployment rate in the profession. According to the job search site Zippia, since 2013, the unemployment rate in the Veterinary profession has decreased from 1.0% to 0.2%. This is probably the tightest market for talent ever in the veterinary profession. I’ve never seen anything like it as an Animal Health and Veterinary recruiter for 25 years, and I’ve been through multiple recessions and good economies. Anyone who wants a job as a veterinarian has a job, and I can’t remember the last time I spoke to an unemployed veterinarian who wanted a job.”

Brown: “Is the market going to stay this tight for talent?”

Pursell: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it will. In September, the BLS was projecting that veterinarian jobs will grow by 19% between 2021 and 2031.”

Brown: “So the Bureau of Labor Statistics is saying that the veterinarian shortage is going to become even more severe in the years ahead?

Pursell: “Yes, that’s right.”

Brown: “In terms of open positions that can’t be filled, how bad will the shortage be?”

Pursell: “According to a report released by Mars Veterinary Health earlier this year, there will be a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians [for all species] by the end of the decade. However, that report was published before the latest BLS projections. When you take those projections into consideration, we could be looking at a shortage of 18,000 veterinarians by 2031.”

Brown: “What about new graduates? Are there enough of them to help with the veterinarian shortage?”

Pursell:” Unfortunately, no.”

Brown: “On this podcast, of course, we focus on equine veterinarians, which also appear to be in short supply. Have you seen this, as well, Stacy?”

Pursell: “Yes,  there is a shortage of equine veterinarians and all large animal veterinarians as well.”

Brown: “So, there is a “shortage within a shortage?”

Pursell: “Yes, you could say that, and there are a few different reasons why that’s the case. First, more and more, those who study to become a veterinarian prefer to be a small animal veterinarian and work with pets  or companion animals. According to a study by Pawsome Advice, less than 10% of veterinary graduates take a rural job. So first, there’s the preference factor, with more people choosing to be small animal veterinarian as opposed to a large animal or rural one.  In our search firm we see more candidates  wanting to go to bigger cities than to be in rural areas.

“The second major factor is the pay gap between small animal and large animal veterinarians. According to Comparably.com, the average equine veterinarian salary in the United States is $88,245, with $1,505 of that total in the form of a bonus. For small animal veterinarians, the average salary is $110,380 with $17,143 of that total in the form of a bonus.”

Other Veterinarian Hiring Topics Covered

Pursell also talked about sign-on bonuses as the norm for small animal veterinarians today. This is an important factor for new graduates with student debt.

“Typically, the sign-on bonus is in the range of $10K to $20K, but they’ve been increasing toward the end of the year,” said Pursell. “We’ve seen more $50K sign-on bonuses lately, and there have even been some bonuses in the $100K to $250K range, especially if the candidate is willing to make a multi-year commitment to the practice.”

Pursell said there also are a larger number of large animal veterinarians retiring and a smaller number coming into rural practice.

Retaining Veterinarians?

Pursell: “I want to talk about retention because it’s much more affordable to keep the veterinarians you have than to hire new ones. We’ve all been aware of what’s happened with the Great Resignation during the past year or so.”

Brown: “Is that over? I haven’t heard much about it in the news lately.”

Pursell: “While it hasn’t been in the news, the Great Resignation is still happening. According to the BLS, the country was averaging four million quits per month through the first nine months of the year, putting it on track with 2021. Not only that, but the share of unemployed Americans who quit or voluntarily left their jobs and immediately began looking for new employment rose to 15.9% in September. This is the highest level of so-called ‘job leavers’ as a percentage of the unemployed reported since 1990.

“In addition, according to data released by LinkedIn earlier this year, the members of Generation Z are switching jobs at a rate 134% higher than in 2019, which means more than twice as frequently as they were just a couple of years before. And Gen Zers were already changing jobs rather frequently in 2019.”

Brown: “What can an employer do to retain veterinarians?”

Pursell: “Offer more flexibility. What you’ll find is that the same things that convince a candidate to join your organization are typically the same things that will convince a current employee to stay at the organization.

“Second, show your employees that they’re appreciated. This could be an encouraging word or a pat on the back goes a long way, but recognizing someone in front of their co-workers is even better. You can even show how much you value them in more tangible ways, such as with a gift card or some other token of your appreciation.

“Third, do what you can to reduce their stress. Employees will take notice of your attempts to alleviate their stress so they can enjoy their jobs more and be more productive in the process. Employees who aren’t as stressed perform better and are less likely to look for another job.”

Hiring Veterinarians

Brown: “Now that we’ve looked at retention, what about hiring? What can employers do in that area?”

Pursell: “This probably won’t surprise you, considering what we’ve discussed so far, but the Law of Supply and Demand dictates that it’s going to take more in the form of starting salary and other forms of compensation to successfully hire equine veterinarians. According to this law, low supply and high demand increase price. This means acquiring equine veterinarians is going to require more money.

“I’ve seen no offers accepted by small animal veterinarians in the past year below $100K in base or guaranteed salary. General practice veterinarians with three years of experience or more are asking for at least $140K plus production. Emergency veterinarians are asking for $200K or more.”

Pursell: “Something else that has become very important to today’s candidates is schedule flexibility and work-life balance. I know that there is more flexibility available to small animal veterinarians than large animal ones, but companion animal veterinarians are seeking a lot of flexibility when exploring employment opportunities.

Brown: “One of the most difficult challenges in hiring equine veterinarians is finding them in the first place. How would you recommend employers go about doing that?”

Pursell: “Because of the veterinarian shortage and the fact it’s a candidates’ market, online job advertisements might not yield the best results. The people who typically use job board posting sites are those who are actively looking for a new job. However, they do not represent every qualified candidate in the job market. That’s because the marketplace also contains passive candidates.

“Passive candidates are not actively looking for a new job because their current employer is keeping them relatively satisfied, not to mention very busy. That means passive candidates are not looking on the Internet for jobs, which means they’re not looking at job board posting sites. Since there is a shortage of veterinarians in the job market, including equine veterinarians, that means there are a lot of passive candidates and not a lot of active job seekers, if any at all.”

Brown: “So, what can employers do?”

Pursell: “I recommend an employee referral program. Ask your existing employees if they know of anyone they can refer. After all, if you like them as an employee, there’s a good chance that you would like someone they know. In addition, go back through the files of everyone you’ve interviewed in the past. Hopefully, you’ve kept those records and you can reach back out to those individuals to see if they would be interested in exploring your opportunity. Networking is one of the best ways to stay connected to the job market and the people within it.

“Also, an employer can also do is build a relationship with an experienced and reputable recruiting firm.”

What Veterinary Industry Recruiters Do

Brown: “What exactly do recruiters do?”

Pursell: “They look for the best people in the marketplace, not just the best people who are looking for a position. The best people are usually gainfully employed, highly regarded  and not looking for a position. Those people have to be sought out and recruited by a recruiter. They are harder to find and harder to land. A recruiters sole job is to recruit while you focus on running your business.

Brown: “What other value does a recruiter provide to employers?”

Pursell: “They have the ability to influence a top candidate to consider an organization’s employment opportunity—even if they were not actively looking for a new job—and enter the organization’s hiring process. Recruiters help keep top candidates engaged throughout the hiring process, decreasing the chance that those candidates will drop out of the process. They also help close a top candidate during the offer stage of the process, extending the offer to the candidate personally to increase the likelihood that the candidate will accept it. They even provide value after the organization has hired the candidate [because] they help with the onboarding process. This ensures that the candidate will start the job on their first day of work and not just “ghost” their new employer.

“There are two more pieces of value that a recruiter can offer. They reduce the amount of time that it takes to fill an open position, thereby reducing the costs associated with leaving the position open for an extended period of time. And they also reduce the likelihood that an organization will hire someone they shouldn’t, thereby also reducing the costs associated with making a bad hire, including the costs of having to hire another person.”

Editor’s note: Pursell asked to include this as an example in the article: “We have a hot candidate looking for a mixed animal veterinarian position. New graduate veterinarian seeking mixed animal position in or near Ann Arbor, Nashville, Indianapolis, Madison, or Milwaukee. Has experience working with equine, bovine, dogs and cats. They enjoy client interaction, diagnostics, surgery, reproduction, and farm management.”

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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