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The job hop

Studies show new associate veterinarians switch jobs faster than average workers
Sep 01, 2008


Annual salaries
LAKEWOOD, COLO. — Though students may look forward to settling into a routine upon graduation, it seems that new DVMs don't often stay in one practice for long.

Associate veterinarians are jumping jobs faster than the average American worker, according to a new study, and salaries that don't keep pace with inflation could be partly to blame.

Average annual employee turnover at veterinary practices is at 29.7 percent, or about double the national average of 12 to 15 percent, according to the fifth edition of Compensation & Benefits, a guide compiled by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

Broken down, that figure includes turnover rates of 20 percent for associate veterinarians, 13 percent for managers, 35 percent for technicians and 44 percent for other staff, with turnover rates reaching the highest in urban and mid-sized practices.

Many factors are involved in the study of turnover rates, notes the guide, but one thing that is consistent is the high price employee turnover can cost a business. Costs of turnover, aside from the time owners and personnel must devote to replacing an employee, include training and recruitment costs, plus the risk of running a short-staffed and possibly inefficient practice, according to the guide.

"It's tempting, especially in this economy, to say that your compensation and benefits are 'good enough' because they're average," says John Albers, DVM and AAHA's executive director in the guide's introduction.

"While paying low wages and keeping benefits to a minimum may save you money now, the cost is high in the long run. Most of us underestimate the costs and lost productivity associated with employee turnover. ... You need to provide above-average compensation and benefits to attract and keep above-average employees."

This may be especially true in coming years, with a recent study from Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine predicting more than 1,000 vacancies in the profession in New England alone by 2014.

Salaries behind inflation

Comparing veterinary salaries from 2003 to 2007, AAHA shows that the compensation for owner and associate veterinarians did not keep up with the national inflation rate of about 6 percent. While owner veterinarian compensation increased by almost 32 percent from 2003 to 2005, it only grew by 1.3 percent from 2005 to 2007.

Associate veterinarian pay increased 15 percent over four years — almost 20 percent in the first two years — but dropped almost 5 percent over the next two years.

Registered technician compensation was the most stable, growing at a rate of about 7.5 percent over the four-year span, the study says.

Average compensation for a practice owner was $126,299 per year, or about 30 percent of his/her productivity.

That reward was the result of working 47 hours per week for 49 weeks out of the year, generating an average of $401,069 personal annual production dollars from 3,773 annual invoices at an average of $123 each, according to the study.

The average associate worked 49 weeks a year, but only 43 hours per week and took home about $71,000 per year. Compensation equaled about 22.5 percent of the associate's production revenue of about $354,410 per year from about 3,015 invoices at $145 each.

Money isn't the only factor in keeping employees happy, says veterinary practice consultant Regina Brogdon, MA, president of BluePrint Veterinary Marketing Group Inc. and a member of the Association of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants and Advisors.

"I think the right guidance and nurturing can create an environment that can help a new graduate feel they are in the right place for the long term," Brogdon says.