Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer living in Denver, Colorado, and the owner of Rumpus Writing and Editing. She has been a veterinary writer and editor since 2011, when she was hired as a copywriter for the American Animal Hospital Association. Learn more at rumpuswriting.com
Statements like “We’re open to new graduates” and “We offer mentorship” once were the exception, not the rule, in job ads seeking veterinarians. As a veterinary industry writer, I’ve written my fair share of job ads. Prior to creating one, I always schedule a call with the practice manager or owner. In the past, the calls typically focused on what the practice was looking for in a candidate, the work schedule, the job responsibilities, the standard fringe benefits and some perks of the hospital’s location.
This past fall, I spoke with a practice owner looking to hire small animal and equine veterinarians for his mixed animal practice. The conversation was very different from those of 10 years ago. Here’s how it went:
Sarah: Are you offering full- or part-time positions?
Practice owner: Whatever the candidate wants. We can be flexible.
Sarah: Do you pay by salary, production or ProSal?
Practice owner: Whatever the candidate wants. We can be flexible.
Sarah: Do you want someone with experience, or are you open to a new or recent graduate?
Practice owner: Either.
Sarah: Do you offer a structured mentorship program?
Practice owner: Yes.
Sarah: Do you offer a sign-on bonus? Pay relocation expenses? Provide student loan repayment assistance?
Practice owner: Yes. Yes. Yes.
“We’re very much in a candidate-driven market,” said Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS, the founder and CEO of The Vet Recruiter and a Today’s Veterinary Business columnist. “Twenty-five years ago, the employer was in control. They could set the hours, schedule, and pay, and say, ‘This is what it is.’ And they would have plenty of candidates to choose from. That’s not the case today.”
Veterinarians in today’s job market can be selective and upfront about what they want. And the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the candidate-driven market isn’t going to change anytime soon. For example, veterinarian jobs are projected to grow by 19% from 2021 to 2031, which, according to Pursell, is an average of 4,800 additional job openings annually. But, as Pursell explained, the profession is netting only about 1,000 new veterinarians each year.
“Nearly 2,000 veterinarians are retiring each year,” said Pursell, who tracks veterinary employment numbers closely. “And data from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges shows that about 3,000 veterinary students graduated in 2020.”
The shortfall means that employers need to pull out all the stops to attract and retain veterinarians and that new graduates are a hot commodity.
So, what can you do to be an employer of choice for newly graduated veterinarians? Here are seven tactics.
1. Get Their Attention
Think outside the box when promoting your veterinary practice to potential candidates.
“It’s important to use creative marketing strategies,” said Tierra Price, DVM, the founder of the BlackDVM Network. “Not everyone goes to job boards, so it’s helpful to get into schools, work through student ambassadors, and attend conferences so you can talk to and meet people.”
Get creative with your job ads, too. Think about unique formats that will help your ad stand out in a sea of similar notices. Post an entertaining video ad on your practice’s Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or TikTok channel. Use an unexpected theme, like an online dating profile, a Mad Libs story or a simple crossword puzzle.
Because diversity, equity and inclusion are important to many new graduates, Dr. Price emphasized the value of posting your job ad with diverse organizations. Some to consider include:
- BlackDVM Network: blackdvmnetwork.com
- Latinx Veterinary Medical Association: latinxvma.org
- Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association: mcvma.org
- National Association for Black Veterinarians: nabvonline.org
- Pride Veterinary Medical Community: pridevmc.org
- Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative: wvldi.org
2. Keep Their Attention
Once new graduates gain interest in your practice, don’t turn them off with outdated technology. Veterinary hospitals still using paper records or maintaining outdated websites are difficult to recruit for, Pursell said.
“Young veterinarians want to work at practices with the latest and greatest technology,” she said. “First impressions matter, and the first thing a candidate will do is go to your website. It doesn’t matter how great your practice is. Candidates won’t give you a second look if you have a terrible website.”
3. Put a Structured Mentorship Plan in Writing
“We place a lot of veterinarians who are leaving their first job out of veterinary school and looking for their second,” Pursell said. “And most of the time, the reason they’re looking for a different job is because they were promised mentorship and didn’t get it.”
Pursell and Dr. Price agreed that a written mentorship plan should be in the job offer and contract.
In addition, write a customized mentorship plan that includes goals and milestones covering at least the first 12 months of employment.
“It could say something like, ‘At the end of 12 months, you will be able to perform X, Y and Z surgeries. You will be able to see 30-minute appointments. You will feel comfortable approaching the team with feedback,’” Dr. Price said. “And then, work backward from there to set milestones.”
Be sure to get buy-in and feedback from experienced practice team members and involve them in the new veterinarian’s mentorship.
“A seasoned veterinarian, technician, receptionist — everyone is involved in raising this new baby doctor,” Dr. Price said. “The mentorship program should include feedback from the technicians and assistants on how the new grad is doing. It should include feedback from the receptionists, and even feedback from clients.”
After your new veterinarian starts work, conduct short monthly check-ins and more formal quarterly check-ins. Provide your feedback and ask:
- How do you think you’re doing?
- Are you getting what you need?
- What feedback do you have for me?
- Do you think you’re on track?
“Thinking about how you’re going to help your new graduate grow as a veterinarian over the next several years is one of the most important things you can do,” Dr. Price said.
4. Pay a Competitive Salary
“Some practice owners believe you haven’t earned a six-figure salary until you’ve been at the practice for three or four years,” Dr. Price said. “But that’s not how it works anymore.”
At The Vet Recruiter, Pursell’s team hasn’t seen a starting salary below $100,000 in the past 18 months.
“New graduates are getting in the range of $100,000 to $130,000, and we’ve even seen some salaries as high as $150,000,” Pursell said.
And when it comes to structuring the pay, Dr. Price recommends keeping new graduates on a straight salary for the first six to 12 months rather than complicating things by introducing production incentives right away.
5. Go Above and Beyond on Benefits
Of course, your practice should offer paid vacation and sick time, a 401(k) retirement plan (with matching contributions), health insurance, license and dues reimbursement, paid continuing education, profit-sharing, and other common benefits. However, today’s employers of choice go beyond the norm to get the attention of new graduates.
IMMEDIATE PAID TIME OFF
Traditionally, an associate veterinarian earned two or three weeks of paid vacation time after working at the practice for a set period. Today, as more practices focus on supporting the well-being of their teams, veterinarians are given at least two weeks of paid time off for use anytime during the first year of employment.
“Paid time off isn’t something that someone should have to earn,” Dr. Price said. “Everyone needs paid time off to decompress, and new grads need it just as much as anyone else.”
STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT
Ryan Campbell, DVM, graduated from the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2022 with $289,000 in student loan debt. When he began looking for a job a few months before graduation, he hoped to find a practice that could help him repay his loans.
Dr. Campbell selected Animal Hospital of Wilkes in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. The practice, owned by Innovetive Petcare, asked him to sign a four-year contract in exchange for an extra $30,000 a year toward his loan debt.
“They pay it in a lump sum every year for the duration of my four-year contract,” Dr. Campbell said.
Deanna Cochran, DVM, a 2022 Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine graduate, found herself in a similar situation. After considering offers from multiple practices, she went to work at corporate-owned Big Thicket Veterinary Clinic in New Caney, Texas. One of her reasons was the guaranteed annual bonus.
“Student loan payment was a big deal to me,” Dr. Cochran said. “A set annual bonus was written into my employment contract, and I can do anything with it, so I use it to pay my student loans.”
SIGN-ON BONUS, RELOCATION REIMBURSEMENT OR TEMPORARY HOUSING
Nearly all accepted employment offers handled by The Vet Recruiter over the past 18 months included a sign-on bonus.
“Most new graduate sign-on or retention bonuses are between $10,000 and $80,000, and for experienced doctors we’re seeing between $40,000 and $250,000,” Pursell said. “The higher sign-on bonuses usually require the candidate to sign a multiyear contract.”
Relocation expenses typically are rolled into the sign-on bonus, Pursell said, but some practices add three to six months of temporary housing as an extra perk, especially in areas where housing is expensive or difficult to find.
Dr. Cochran’s three-year contract included the annual bonus as well as sign-on and retention bonuses.
“None of the other clinics could really compete with that,” she said.
MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS
New veterinary graduates are well aware of the mental health struggles plaguing the veterinary profession.
“Offering some kind of mental health benefit can help your practice stand out,” Dr. Price said.
Her employer, Veterinary Emergency Group, offers Talkspace, an app that provides mental health resources and allows members to text with a therapist.
6. Allow Flexible Scheduling
Five- or six-day workweeks might be coming to an end, driven by the desire of new veterinarians for a healthy work-life balance.
“We all know how the hours go in vet med. If you’re supposed to work 10, you’re going to work 12. If you’re supposed to work 12, you’re going to work 14,” Dr. Price said. “A four-day workweek is really important for veterinary professionals so we can take back the time and space we need to recalibrate because the job is so intense.”
Dr. Campbell works four days a week at Animal Hospital of Wilkes. Dr. Cochran works four days a week, plus a half day every other Saturday, at Big Thicket Veterinary Clinic.
Dr. Price hopes to shorten the workweek even more. She and another veterinarian intend to acquire two practices in Atlanta at which the full-time veterinarians will spend three days a week with patients and one day a week working on medical records, client follow-ups and similar tasks.
Veterinary hospitals must adapt to the changing preferences of the workforce, Pursell said.
“Practices have to consider all their options. If they’ve got a great candidate willing to work, but only three or four days a week, they might have to consider job-sharing or hiring two or three people,” Pursell said. “People are willing to work, but just not 50, 60 or 70 hours a week.”
7. Try Before They Buy
To take control of their work schedules, many new veterinarians opt for relief shifts rather than commit to full-time jobs. According to Cindy Trice, DVM, the founder and CEO of Relief Rover, 78% of her clients answered “maybe” when asked, “Would you be willing to consider full- or part-time work?”
“That’s a lot of veterinarians who, if they found the right place, would stay,” Dr. Trice said. “Many veterinarians use relief work to find a practice they like. And, if you ask me, that’s the smartest thing in the world. The candidate can choose a practice based on how things actually are there, not how the practice manager or owner says things are during the interview process.”
“Try before you buy” works both ways. It also benefits the practice to work with contract veterinarians before hiring them as W2 employees. Dr. Price suggests a two- or three-month trial period so that both sides can determine whether the match is a good fit.
If a practice owner or manager is open to a trial period, be sure to explain it in the job ad by saying something like, “We’re looking for an associate or relief veterinarian.”
HOW TO WRITE A JOB AD
When it comes to job ads that appeal to new veterinary school graduates, go beyond the traditional list of responsibilities and requirements, and instead focus on what potential candidates value. Is your practice committed to diversity, equity and inclusion? Do you offer extra paid time off to participate in community service? Does your practice give back to the community and support a particular cause?
Including those messages in your job ad can help you attract candidates who share similar values.
However, said the BlackDVM Network’s Dr. Tierra Price, “You need to actually value the things you say you value. Don’t be misleading. Set your practice up to have the culture you tout in your job ad.”
Your job ad also should include:
- Salary or salary range: Don’t waste a candidate’s time or your own by leaving it out.
- Additional money: Do you offer a sign-on bonus, relocation allowance or student loan assistance? Say so.
- Mentorship opportunities: “What’s most important to new graduates is structured mentorship and flexibility,” said The Vet Recruiter’s Stacy Pursell.
- Work schedule: If your practice is willing to be flexible, say so.
- Location: Why should a new veterinarian want to call your community home? Include a quick sentence or two about the benefits of where you are.
The Federal Trade Commission proposed a rule early this year that would prohibit noncompetition clauses in employee contracts. The timing came as noncompetes fall out of favor in veterinary practice, said The Vet Recruiter’s Stacy Pursell.
“We’re getting more candidates, including new graduates, who are requesting not to sign a noncompete,” she said.
One of her hospital clients recently lost a job candidate because of a noncompete demand.
“The practice started with a 10-mile noncompete, which they reduced to five miles, and then to one mile, but the candidate walked away,” Pursell said. “She had multiple offers, so it didn’t take her any time to find a job.”
Noncompetes are often replaced with nonsolicitations in today’s job market, she said, and more new graduates hire an attorney to review a contract before they sign it.