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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org