• NAVC Brands
Columns, Leadership

An uphill job

If you’re struggling to find — and hire — an associate veterinarian for your practice, get to work fixing the problem. You can do it.

An uphill job
The less obvious reason you can’t find an associate veterinarian is because you’re not looking hard enough to find one.
I’m a proponent of tough love. As a veterinary recruiter, I give tough love to my clients and candidates almost daily. I administer it in a consultative way, of course. This is because clients and candidates rely on me to get them the things they want. Specifically, I:
  • Help animal health and veterinary professionals find the right job opportunity when the time is right.
  • Recruit top talent to solve the critical needs of veterinary practices and animal health companies.
For a veterinary practice, recruiting top talent requires doing the right things consistently. The problem is that not enough practices do the right things, and if they are, they’re not doing things consistently enough to experience sustained success. This brings us to why you can’t find an associate veterinarian for your practice. The two big reasons are connected. Once you understand the connection, you will be in a better position to address the situation and devise solutions.

1. We Have a Shortage of Associate Veterinarians

This is the more obvious reason you can’t find an associate veterinarian. The demand for associate vets exceeds the supply. Just as your practice is looking for one, so are thousands of other clinics across the United States. Let’s peel back the issue. Why, exactly, is there a shortage? You’ve probably noticed that current economic conditions are favorable. To put it another way, the Great Recession is all but a distant memory. We are in the midst of the longest bull market in U.S. history. In fact, the bull market recently turned 10 years old. When a bull market and a good economy co-exist, the employment marketplace is affected in two ways:
  • An employer has the resources to adequately compensate and reward top performers, and dissuade them from leaving.
  • Professionals looking to grow their career have more employment options and opportunities.
The national unemployment rate at the end of May was 3.6%. The rate within the veterinary profession, on the other hand, has hovered between 0.5% and 1.5% for the past 18 to 24 months. Those numbers indicate why the veterinary profession has a shortage of qualified candidates. However, it helps to illustrate how the shortage plays out within the marketplace and how it affects practices that are looking to hire. Because of prevailing conditions — the strong economy and the shortage of qualified candidates — veterinary practices are doing everything they can to retain their best employees, the people they can ill afford to lose. The last thing veterinary practices want is for their best employees to look for another job. As a result, the majority of these employees, including veterinary associates, are not looking for another job. Let’s say, though, that one of them decides to look. At the very least, she explores her opportunities and options. I have seen veterinarians receive as many as eight job offers. Just because she’s exploring her options does not mean she decided to leave her current employer. So, the dilemma facing practice owners and managers is this: Even if they find an associate veterinarian candidate, they’ll find themselves in fierce competition with other practices. While I used the word “find,” what I want to emphasize is “find and hire.” Even if you find a veterinary associate who is a viable candidate for a job opening, hiring the person is not automatic. Finding is the first step and hiring is the second and most important step. Why go to all the trouble of finding the person if you’re not going to eventually hire her? Top candidates in the marketplace are difficult to find and are equally, if not more, difficult to hire.

2. You’re Not Looking Hard Enough

The less obvious reason you can’t find an associate veterinarian is because you’re not looking hard enough to find one, and once you do find a candidate, you’re not engaging her effectively enough to successfully hire her. By now you can probably see what I meant by tough love. I understand that the hiring situation brings with it stress and frustration, which I’ve seen firsthand. I work with veterinary employers every day, helping them to find and hire people. I’m there when they do it successfully and I’m there when they don’t. In other words, I know what does and doesn’t work. Simply posting a job advertisement and hoping someone applies no longer works in the majority of cases. Veterinary practice owners and managers need to realize that we are in a candidate’s market. This means that prospective employees, especially top candidates, hold the leverage. They have more options. They certainly have more options than employers do, especially within an industry with a very low unemployment rate. Practicing tough love is being willing to give tough answers to tough questions. “Why can’t I find a veterinary associate?” is a tough question these days. For better or worse, the answer is equally tough. The good news is that recognizing the situation is a big step toward resolving the problem. Successfully hiring in today’s climate requires more effort and more planning. And it requires everyone involved in the process to act with a sense of urgency, an understanding of the challenges and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to reach the desired outcome. VetPartners member Stacy Pursell is founder and CEO of The Vet Recruiter. She is a workplace and workforce expert who has served the animal health industry and veterinary profession for more than 22 years.