Opening Shots columnist Dr. Ernie Ward is an award-winning veterinarian, impact entrepreneur, book author and media personality. When he’s not with family or pet patients, Dr. Ward can be found contemplating solutions during endurance athletics and meditation and on his weekly podcast, “Veterinary Viewfinder.” Learn more at drernieward.com
If you have a question about practice life, personal well-being, leadership or veterinary careers, email firstname.lastname@example.orgRead Articles Written by Ernie Ward
Q: A 38-year-old mom of two girls, I recently had my first physical since my youngest was born five years ago. Unfortunately, my family and practice, not to mention too much inactivity, took a toll on my health. My doctor says I need to lose weight, exercise more and reduce stress. Ha! Has he ever heard of vet med? Seriously, any advice on how to get healthier?
A: Congratulations on taking the first step toward reclaiming your health. The lifestyle changes you make today will benefit you and enhance your family’s well-being.
Scores of veterinarians have asked me the same question over the past 25 years, and my answer is rooted in steps I took at age 30 when I found myself in a similar predicament. The first thing I did was address sleep quality. I committed to going to bed (and waking up) earlier, tracking sleep parameters — I use the Oura Ring — and making adjustments based on the data. I reduced alcohol, eliminated caffeine after 3 p.m., drank four liters of water each day and concentrated on eating nutrient-dense whole foods containing less simple sugars. I also stopped TV and screen time an hour before bed. I started walking every morning for 30 minutes (which evolved into Ironman triathlons), read a ton of positive-psychology books, focused on personal relationships, and took up meditation.
That’s a lot of work, and I’ll be the first to say that prioritizing my health was, and continues to be, a challenge. It’s a process, so do as much as you can, but do something each day. Veterinary medicine can be unpredictable and stressful, making a personal-care routine essential. And don’t forget to see your doctor every six to 12 months.
I always viewed self-care as my gift to those I love. If I were healthier, more energetic and mentally focused, then I would be a better husband, father, leader and boss. This journey is as much about you as your loved ones. Bon voyage!
Q: I’m an associate veterinarian looking for a new job. The last two interviewers asked about my desired salary. I know what a few veterinarians make in our area, but knowing how much to ask for is difficult. What’s the best answer?
A: The old “You go first” dilemma! Despite your discomfort with salary negotiations, going first can be an advantage due to a cognitive bias known as the anchoring effect. In simplest terms, whoever throws out the first figure typically sets the boundaries. The tactic is most effective if you toss an anchor based on the “zone of possible agreement” (ZOPA) and if you have an idea of how much your prospective employer knows about it.
If you know what your salary should be — begin by analyzing your budget and benchmarks — and you feel the interviewer is a bit vague on how much to pay, don’t hesitate to start with an aggressive value, say 10% to 20% above market. The only risk is that if you greatly exceed ZOPA or the interviewer is ignorant, a reasonable yet high offer is dismissed, and the interview is over. So, do your homework.
In veterinary medicine, I advise a slight variation when asked about salary, especially if you don’t know or understand ZOPA or if you’re uncomfortable asking for more money. Try something like: “Being fairly compensated as a veterinarian is an important criterion, but I’m more interested in the opportunity here. What does someone with my experience and abilities usually earn in this position?”
No matter the answer, you still need to negotiate. Surveys show that less than half of employees negotiate their salary, while over half of employers expect it. Most employers will offer a lower amount to allow for bargaining. Get comfortable talking about your salary, and role-play the scenarios with a trusted party. You’re worth it.
Q: I’ve spent five years as an associate veterinarian at my clinic. We’re interviewing new veterinarians, and one of them left her job offer on our office desk. I couldn’t help but peek. To my shock, I discovered her starting salary was nearly 25% more than my current pay, and with more benefits! Should I tell my boss I saw the offer and deserve more?
A: I hear more of those stories as competition for veterinary professionals intensifies. I’ll reserve judgment on whether you should’ve “peeked” at the contract, but I can offer advice on advocating for yourself and negotiating your salary.
First, it’s perfectly legal and normal for employees to discuss their pay privately among themselves. I think a good starting point for this discussion is to use the new hire’s prospective compensation package as a basis to negotiate a better salary for yourself. This is also an excellent opportunity to ask colleagues what they’re paid and look at industry benchmarks.
The next step is listing valid reasons you deserve a raise. I’m conflicted on promoting a “Because this is what I’m worth” argument in every case because, well, equal work deserves equal pay. Enough said. The reality is that most bosses expect some justification for why you’re asking for more money, so it’s good to provide rationale.
I suggest approaching your boss with this combination:
- Sharing the discrepancy between a new veterinarian’s starting pay and benefits package and your current pay. (Base the numbers on your intel, but keep the source anonymous.)
- Detailing your qualities, abilities, revenue and leadership as well as the practice growth under your tenure.
After that, you have to see what happens. If you’re met with stiff resistance or “We can’t pay that,” there’s never been a better time to change jobs. Hopefully, your boss will recognize your worth and immediately offer a more generous salary and benefits
Q: One of my star veterinary technicians started calling in sick at least one or two days a month. Her attitude remains cheerful and her work excellent, and our staff and clients love her. Her co-workers support her absences, but I’m worried she’s setting a bad example that could lead to more sick days. Should I fire her?
A: Normally, whenever an employee starts repeatedly calling in sick, showing up late or shirking responsibilities, I’d say it’s a sure sign they’re looking for the exit. In this case, I’m not so sure. For starters, have you asked about the absences? Maybe she’s battling an emerging condition, caring for a sick loved one or confronting another personal challenge that’s affecting her work. Perhaps she’s juggling too much and needs extra time off. I’ve experienced this situation with exceptional staff members. Once we reduced their hours a bit, voila, no more sickouts.
The other consideration is her productivity and impact on the team. If she’s maintaining her workload and supported by the team, I’m inclined to work things out. The risk is if resentment rises among her co-workers because of a perceived advantage or exemption from the rules — “If she can call in sick without repercussions, so can I.” Have private conversations with team leaders to gauge their feelings and ask for solutions. Address any simmering issues.
Ultimately, I favor nearly anything within reason to keep exceptional employees. The trick is satisfying everyone’s needs while maintaining a productive, profitable and peaceful practice. So, my final answer is don’t fire her until you’ve spoken with everyone involved.