The Concern; High Turnover, Part I

Turnover is nearly DOUBLED within the veterinary community.

Turnover is nearly DOUBLED within the veterinary community, higher than other industries.

How can I, in one Blog, speak about passionate careers within the veterinary community, and in the next, write about high turnover? Welcome to the veterinary community’s largest challenge.

Over the past decade I have seen, researched, and taken a serious interest in both turnover and careers. This is what I have discovered, in a nutshell; 1. veterinary hospitals are under managed, 2. low salaries need to be scrutinized along with supply and demand and 3. compassion fatigue is under-diagnosed and misunderstood.

Let’s take a deeper look at two of these three topics, under managed and low wages. Compassion fatigue requires its own Blog post (Part II, a bit of a cliff-hanger).

When I first became a credentialed veterinary technician in 1987, I worked for two veterinarians who managed their practice, saw their own appointments, took the majority of the emergency calls in the valley, and performed a wide variety of surgeries. There were few options for referrals, especially living 3 hours away from the nearest metropolitan area, over mountain passes and many miles away. I can remember having discussions with my veterinarian, at that time, that it was in his best interest to “do veterinarian things” and allow others to manage the hospital. We also chatted about veterinary technician wages and how the growing profession blamed the veterinarians for not paying them well.

Step forward twenty-plus years and take a snapshot of the veterinary community. We still have veterinarians managing their own hospitals, however I see an increase in the hiring of veterinary hospital managers, although I hear a number of managers who are frustrated in their jobs. They may not feel empowered to perform their duties or uneducated to do their job, well. Thus the statement “under managed.” In my travels, and during gatherings with managers, many of them are “promoted from within,” either receptionists or technical team member, without formal training or supported in formal training. A real quandary.

I would be remiss if I pointed out problems without coming to the table with possible solutions. Consider managers being supported with well defined job descriptions, continued training, possible certification (CVMP, PHR, SPHR), appropriate delegation and open communication between veterinary owner(s) and manager(s).

As for the pay of the veterinary technicians, we can refer to a recent statistic pointed out in NAVTA’s Journal, 2009 survey results;

“With the median annual income for full-time, year-round female workers in 2009 at $36,278 (compared to men’s $47,127), technicians are earning more than $1,000 less annually than the the average American.”

That is an odd way of stating veterinary technicians are making, annually, what the average female American makes. $35,000 equates to, roughly, $17.50/hour. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows veterinary technicians, nationally, make an average mean wage of $31,570 ( Belonging to the Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians and having access to their state survey, it revealed the largest percentage of their membership (24%) are making between $14-$16/hour.

In NAVTA’s previous survey, 2007 polling, “Salary continued to be the number one issue.” In the 2009 polling, “most respondents selected ‘lack of professional recognition’ as the most frequently mentioned problem, a management challenge. Respondents also stated, “under-managed/ understaffed, relationship with boss/ management, and long hours,” as problems they face. Appears to be more management hurdles to me.

Team wages are a complex situation. Supply and demand continues to grow within veterinary hospitals, whether driven by increased services, leveraging of the veterinary team, veterinarians properly delegating and managers focusing on professional development with job satisfaction as a means to an end. Well-managed veterinary hospitals appear to find a balance between team delivery of services, delegation, and professional development. Again, this is defined by management and the culture in which the team desires to thrive in.

As for the even more complex issue of compassion fatigue and how it is relevant in team turnover, that will be discussed in Part II.

For now, what are your comments regarding under manged veterinary hospitals and team salaries? Feel free to comment below.

Cheers, to your continued career development within veterinary medicine. I honestly feel our profession is at a point of experiencing another paradigm shift. It was agriculturally based, veterinarian centered and managed.  Now, it is becoming much more companion animal and client/team centered. The reality we see today will be a different reality in another decade. The only thing consistent is CHANGE. How can we direct the paradigm shift or does it just occur, naturally?


NAVTA 2009 survey:

NAVTA 2007 survey:


Team Satisfaction Pays:

Tackling turnover:

MyVeterinaryCareer turnover stats:

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