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Don't let veterinary team member raises raise your blood pressure
Be smart about the costs of employing team members and make sure you can pay for what you promise


The cost of employing

All businesses, including veterinary practices, are grappling with hiring. Can you afford employees or, conversely, can you afford not to have them?

Hiring and training is a big expense. Ongoing expenses of payroll continue to climb. A lot of businesses, including veterinary businesses, are biding their time. Of course, it all depends on the quality and number of the applicants and the needs of your practice.

The long-term trend in veterinary medicine has been to hire more staff and delegate downstream as many technical and administrative duties as possible. This is the old management mantra based on division of labor. It works wonderfully, but only when the practice owner or manager has a nose for management and a keen ear for staff problems.

The financial impact on the practices nationwide of all this hiring has been enormous. This model "works" economically in the human medical field, where insurance and government obscure the real costs to the consumer.

In most other industries (other than medical fields), however, companies are trying to work with fewer employees and letting computerization takes over people functions. For example, in banking—where online services have almost replaced walking up to a bank teller—the hiring of tellers has dropped like a rock.

This has been a major factor in our current unemployment problem in the United States in that information technology has replaced many jobs. Who wants to hire someone when a computer will do the same job without complaining 24 hours per day?

In veterinary medicine, computers will never replace the need for "hands controlling animals." It takes two people plus the veterinarian to handle certain pets adequately without chemical immobilization. Therein lies the rub—we need people to help us.

The long-term question is, can technology help us create efficiencies in our staff that allow us to hire the "right" number of people for our practices? Part of the problem is, our profession is seasonal. An employee needs a paycheck year-round, but cash flow cycles with fluctuating animal hormones, daylight and parasite prevalence.

Many consultants recommend somewhere between three to five team members per veterinarian in the practice. For the time being we need to err on the low side until we get our management and financial act together.

Dr. Lane is a graduate of the University of Illinois. He owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. Dr. Lane completed a master's degree in agricultural economics in 1996. He is a speaker and author of numerous practice-management articles. He also offers a broad range of consulting services. Dr. Lane can be reached at


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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