A generational divide: Baby Boomer, 55 years old, practice owner

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May 18, 2009
Ardmore, Pa. -- He has employed many younger-generation veterinarians and currently has three on staff who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Dr. James Bianco

But Dr. James Bianco, owner of the Ardmore Animal Hospital in a suburb of Philadelphia, says he would never accuse graduates of being lazy or having a poor work ethic.

"I hear that from colleagues, but I don't see it," Bianco says. "Just because they don't want to work 100 hours a week doesn't make them bad people."

In a recent poll on differences between generations and problems that can occur in the workplace, veterinarians under age 28 were criticized the most for poor work ethic and a lack of loyalty. The 29-to-44 age group fared better, but there were still doubts among many in the older set that the workers would give their all to a practice.

But Bianco, 55, says he thinks poor management skills are to blame for owners who are dealing with poor-performing associates.

"You have to treat people like human beings and give them proper working schedules," he says. "Granted, there's no free lunch. If you want to be successful, you've got to work hard, but if you manage your practice properly and have the right fee schedule, you don't need to have them work 50- to 60-hour weeks and burn them out."

And making younger veterinarians "pay their dues" isn't an excuse, he says. "I think some of the older generations think you have to work 100 hours per week to be successful instead of thinking they need to manage better," Bianco says. "Just give good hours and allow them to make a good living."

Half of his six-associate staff graduated in 2000 or later -- one in 2000, one in 2003 and another in 2005. Only one of the associates, a 1983 graduate, is male.

"My younger vets are all female. They have children; they have families. They're working 30 to 40 hours and I've found them to be hard workers," he says. "But because the profession is profoundly more female than male, you have to be flexible with your hours, because family is No. 1 and children are No. 1, and we work around that. And it works beautifully. When they're happy, the clinic functions more efficiently."

Bianco also teaches his younger veterinarians his philosophy that, while the patient's best interest should always come before the requests of the client, client interaction is the most important part of an office visit.

"You're not going to have a medical work-up if you can't communicate with the client," he says.

And while he references the Internet more often than his medical texts these days, that is where Bianco draws the line on technology's role in his practice. "Everything with me is face-to-face. I don't like to e-mail anybody. I don't think e-mail is a proper way to communicate with another human being. It's the easy way out, and it's not the professional way to deal with people," he says, adding it doesn't only apply to dealing with clients. "If I have to talk to doctors about a problem, it's always face-to-face."

In spite of any criticisms his colleagues have of generations X and Y, Bianco, who likes to hire fresh veterinarians a few years out of school, says the things they bring to the table make up for the challenges that come with their young age.

"I love their energy level, the enthusiasm, willingness to try new things and their knowledge base. The new ideas they have learned, new protocols and their academic background are good for any practice because it diminishes stagnation," he says. "I've had a lot of young veterinarians. They're young, energetic, with fresh ideas and willing to learn."