On the homefront
New practice owner Susanna Aldridge, a 2001 graduate of the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, knows first-hand
some of the pitfalls of being an associate. After graduation, she says she worked for two years as an associate at a private
practice. She left for better compensation at a multi-practice veterinary hospital chain, but says she also didn't get the
mentoring she had hoped for in her first job experience. Raises and vacation time were granted based on production, another
detractor, and some of the hospitals she worked in were very slow. But when she made suggestions to bring in more business,
they were ignored, she says.
"I have a couple of friends, one that just recently opened a practice also, with the same problems. It was the same type of
frustrations. You don't have the ability to impact the way things are run, you don't get much say in the business and the
medical side of things, yet you are limited to what you can bring in production wise because of the way things are done,"
Aldrige purchased her own practice, Tender Loving Care Animal Hospital in Martinsville, Ind., in January 2008 and just hired
her first employee. Her experiences as a frustrated associate will help her manage her part-time associate, she says.
"It was kind of good I had all these associate experiences," she explains. "And being a recent grad myself, I understand the
frustrations of an associate, so I think, hopefully, I'm a more fair owner/boss."
But not all practices are experiencing high turnover. At Amber Leaf Veterinary Hospital in suburban Chicago, most of the four
associate veterinarians have worked at the practice for at least five years, says owner Dr. Steven Rohrback, and one is about
to become a partner. The employees who left did so when spouses were transferred or to start families. With more female veterinarians
than males, Rohrback says he thinks female associates wanting to start a family is a big factor in departures.
"I've lost female associates before, because they have left to have children and not come back," Rohrback says, adding he
has heard this same complaint among other owners at the national level.
That factor aside, Rohrback says he strives to keep his practice competitive in many ways, from salary to hours, to keep his
associates happy. Communication is open and he tries to give everyone's opinion consideration. He also loves to act as a mentor
and encourage his associates' specialty interests, Rohrback says.
"Mentoring's important. I can't imagine why a veterinarian wouldn't mentor young people," he says. "That's one of the best
parts of the practice and it increases the effectiveness of your practice."
Though he is willing to be flexible, Rohrback admits it sometimes is hard to get everything he wants in a new hire. His clinic
used to offer late night and weekend hours and emergency services, but he has cut way back because he couldn't find anyone
willing to work those hours.
"Try to hire a new veterinarian nowadays and tell them we do our own emergencies. It's not going to happen," Rohrback says.
"It used to be the clients dictated what the veterinarian's hours were. Not any more. Veterinarians coming out of school dictate
where veterinary medicine is going."
But attitudes like Rohrback's aren't always commonplace, and owners often are not taught management skills, Brogdon says.
Employees who feel valued and (feel) like they are learning are more likely to stay at a business, even if they aren't entirely
happy with their pay, Brogdon adds.
Still, Brogdon agrees that salaries can be a big part of one's decision to leave, and allowing employees to leave because
owners can't afford to pay more is "penny wise and pound foolish," Brogdon says.
"The rule of thumb is, it takes one-and-a-half annual salaries to replace somebody," Brogdon says, adding it is cheaper to
pay an employee more than to lose them, and owners should review their own fees before letting an employee jump ship.