Practice Smarter columnist Mark Opperman is the president and founder of Veterinary Management Consultation Inc., director of veterinary practice management at Mission Veterinary Partners, and founder of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. His column won first place in the Florida Magazine Association’s 2020 Charlie Awards.Read Articles Written by Mark Opperman
I love lecturing at veterinary schools, and thanks to the support of Mission Veterinary Partners, I speak at many of them every year. I usually talk to third-year students just before they go into clinics, a point at which they start to think about graduation and beyond. By this time, many have chosen a career path — small animal, large, mixed or some other field — but one constant is they’re all concerned about their first post-graduation job. Given the current employee market, it’s more important than ever to understand the concerns and aspirations of our graduating veterinarians. Then, hopefully, we can ensure that our practices’ needs match the needs of those we wish to hire.
At most schools, I spend two days discussing practice management, a topic many students have not considered. We discuss the many types of practices, each with its own culture, and how prospective employees need to understand the culture and ensure it aligns with their desires. The students share their concerns about the interview process, the expectations of employers and staff members, employment contracts, and the needs of the practice.
I ask the students to jot down their thoughts about their first job post-graduation. Here is what the classes of 2023 tell me.
What do you see as the most significant challenges and concerns post-graduation?
The students’ responses can be broken into three categories.
1. Interviewing, Hiring and Practice Location
The students wondered when they should discuss employment terms and expectations during the interview process and how they can determine whether a clinic’s environment is a good match. One student wanted to know which red flags to look
for during the interview and what might suggest a practice is the right or wrong one.
A well-managed practice is important to students, and we discuss the types of practice managers and those administrators’ responsibilities. In addition, some students want to know during a job interview about a practice’s financial status. One student posed an interesting question: “Can I find a rural practice that will be willing to move into the future?”
2. Employer and Team Expectations
Many students expressed an interest in getting a job description and work schedule in writing. Time off, evening hours, weekend hours and emergency work continue to be critical considerations for future veterinarians.
One student wrote, “I am concerned about looking like an idiot and not wanting to ask questions because they think I already know this stuff.” Another said, “I am concerned about feeling like I’m not really a superior to the team.” Those fears speak to the importance of open communication and the need for a well-thought-out mentorship program.
The students also wished to know more about pricing their veterinary services and how fees are determined. Fortunately, my lectures covered those topics.
3. Employment Contracts
Students tend to be apprehensive about employment contacts.
During the class, we review a sample contract; afterward, they feel more comfortable about it. I firmly believe that all veterinarians should be required to sign an employment contract when first hired.
The students want a fair contract that provides competitive fringe benefits and compensation. They expressed concern about not having enough information to determine the best contract and about upfront costs, such as lawyer fees. They wondered how they could earn enough to cover living expenses and pay off their student loans. Another issue was the work-life balance.
My classes discuss different compensation methods — salary, straight production and ProSal. We also talk about valuing their time and services as veterinarians and charging appropriately.
What are you looking for at your first practice?
That’s one of the most enlightening questions I ask. While a competitive salary and benefits are important to the students, money isn’t a primary concern. Instead, they are apprehensive about practices that aren’t managed well or are rundown or outdated. For example, one student stated: “I want a loving/caring staff environment and atmosphere. I don’t like working where people seem not to like one another or do not work as a team. Clients notice that.”
Communication issues are a substantial concern of many students. They want to feel supported by the practice owner or manager. They want:
- Ample time to work up cases.
- Up-to-date technology.
- A healthy, drama-free work environment.
- Personable and friendly co-workers.
- Low turnover of team members.
- Feedback on effective communication.
Most students said mentorship is a high priority. They want a formal, written mentorship program to help them acclimate to the practice.
Any other concerns?
The students’ responses to that question were many and quite varied. A top concern was being thrown into a practice without proper support or training. That’s why they value mentorship. They also were anxious about burnout and making a mistake that could harm a patient.
They wondered about their readiness as clinicians:
- “Will I know enough?”
- “Will I be able to handle difficult cases and ask questions?”
- “Will I get sued?”
- “Will I be expected to follow how they always do something and not practice my medicine?”
- “What if I’m not taken seriously by clients?”
Selecting the right practice for employment is a worry, as are:
- Working at a practice that is not open to new ideas and concepts.
- Negativity in the workplace.
- Not liking the practice or team members.
- Not fitting into the practice culture.
Other comments included:
- “Did I pick the right field?”
- “Will I forget my education?”
- “My friends and family won’t want to stay in my life because I am too busy.”
- “Will the practice allow me to be the veterinarian I wish to be?”
- “Staying with a practice for a long time and possibly buying into it would be my dream.”
What students say hasn’t changed much over the years. They are concerned about the work environment, a lack of mentorship, practice owner support, being taken seriously and listened to, having the tools to diagnose and practice quality medicine, and good practice management and leadership.
What has changed is that today’s graduating DVMs are much more discriminating. Many know what they want, and they know which questions to ask.
If you are looking to hire new graduates, try to understand their interests and concerns. How does your practice address the issues, and will your practice allow for a successful, long-term professional relationship? That is what every student wants.
DID YOU KNOW?
According to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, 3,460 Americans studied veterinary medicine outside the United States during the most recent academic year.