Leslie A. Mamalis
MBA, MSIT, CVA
Leslie A. Mamalis is the owner and senior consultant at Summit Veterinary Advisors. She provides practice valuations, profitability assessments, feasibility analyses, and financial consulting to veterinary specialists and general practices. She is co-chair of the VetPartners Valuation Council. Learn more at summitveterinaryadvisors.comRead Articles Written by Leslie A. Mamalis
The pandemic ushered in many changes in veterinary practices, among them reduced hours of operation due to the uncertainty, the downturn in the labor market and shortages of personal protective equipment. One choice was to close Saturdays. Many hospitals that did it discovered improved team morale and no reduction in revenue. When some tried to reverse course, doctors and staff members often pushed back because they enjoyed the weekends off and were in no hurry to resume Saturday shifts.
Meanwhile, other practices responded differently. Some closed Saturdays and extended their Monday through Friday hours. Some changed surgery schedules or staggered meal breaks to ensure adequate staffing. Some started virtual care appointments and a work-from-home option.
The point is that each veterinary practice acted based on its unique needs and goals. But, really, how important are Saturday hours?
Plusses and Minuses
If you’re considering eliminating Saturday hours, what’s at stake? Would consolidating hours help with the team schedule? Would reducing the number of shifts give you optimal coverage during the week? The move also might address another pressing issue: finding people to hire. Not working Saturdays could be a game changer for job applicants.
Yet, the decision to close Saturday isn’t just about staffing and scheduling. Other relationships are at stake. Consider all the general and emergency hospitals in your town. Would closing your general practice on Saturday create a patient care problem, especially if an ER isn’t nearby? While not having to work might be a blessing for burned-out team members, what would “Sorry, we’re closed” mean to the pet-owning community? Would opening just four hours on Saturday satisfy client needs?
One thing I love about working with veterinarians is the collegiality of hospitals in the same community. You might be competitors, but you’re also colleagues who readily share medications and supplies when needed. Just as veterinary hospitals used to trade emergency coverage, could you create a rotating schedule where two or more practices take turns opening Saturday? If your practice was open one Saturday a month, would you achieve full staff coverage and minimum grumbling?
The Financial Component
Look back over a year of Saturdays you were open and the gross fees your practice generated. Now calculate the doctor and staff costs of covering those shifts. Your hospital might open from 8 a.m. to noon, but how long is your staff on the clock? Typical Saturday appointments are wellness exams, rechecks and minor procedures. However, Saturdays can derail quickly because of “squeeze-in” appointments and minor emergencies, extending the 8-to-noon shift for hours after the hospital “officially” closes.
You’ll see part of the picture if you isolate the gross fees generated on Saturdays and subtract the wages and commissions paid on those days. To improve the accuracy, subtract an additional 8% in total wages to cover the employer portion of payroll taxes. And then multiply the gross fees by your percentage of cost of goods sold and subtract the result again.
Is the final number positive or negative? The answer won’t tell you whether to close Saturdays. You have other factors to consider.
The Human Component
If you close Saturday, how will clients respond? Some pet owners prefer that day so they can juggle family and work activities during the week. Would appointments on weekday evenings satisfy them? Would they take time off work to bring a pet in during the week? They might look for another practice that is open Saturdays.
If you are open Saturdays, evaluate your clients’ experiences that day. Warn anyone “squeezed in” for non-urgent care of a possible extended wait. They’ll likely show patience, but what about clients with Saturday appointments? Are they seen on time, or do they have to wait, too? And for how long? How often do you provide them with updates? Do you offer refreshments to make the wait more comfortable? Can pet owners access the restroom?
If Saturdays become a free-for-all, you might be better off with early evening weekday appointments when the hospital is fully staffed and chaos is at a minimum.
Also, what about your team? Being scheduled for a four-hour shift but working six hours might be the last thing they want to do on a Saturday. Will staying late push them into overtime pay? If so, will you chastise them for it? Part-time employees might welcome the extra hours, but no one appreciates being expected to work more than their scheduled shift week after week.
Speaking of part-timers, if you have several students on your team or other employees who rely on weekend hours, how will losing Saturday shifts affect them? Unless they can pick up the hours during the week, these employees might look for another job.
Interview employees who regularly work Saturdays to learn what they like and don’t enjoy about the hours. Also, conduct an online survey to get fast results. Encourage everyone to answer honestly. Don’t rely on comments from just the vocal complainers.
The Technology Component
COVID-19 greatly expanded the availability, acceptance and usage of virtual care. In human medicine, virtual appointments increased access to health care. Veterinary medicine had similar results. Clients with multiple pets or recalcitrant cats and people with mobility issues benefited significantly from virtual pet care, from rechecks to behavior issues to quality-of-life assessments.
Does your practice provide telemedicine through your staff or a third party? (Be sure to understand your state laws and regulations thoroughly.) Would telemedicine open opportunities for your doctors to work from home a few hours a week?
Evaluate the Results
If you do your homework, you’ll have more information to help you make the best decision about Saturday hours. Some hospitals closed Saturdays and haven’t looked back. Others modified the Saturday schedule to one or two days a month. One client I work with liked being closed Saturdays so much that his practice closed Fridays, too. He couldn’t be happier, but his solution won’t work for everyone.
The point is to be creative in crafting a schedule that works for your staff, clients and community.
A calendar maintained by Pet Sitters International shows no pet observances on a Saturday in February or March 2023. One annual happening, If Pets Had Thumbs Day, falls on Friday, March 3.