Common conflicts between associates and owners: What can you do? (Proceedings)


There is anticipation in the air as a new associate (frequently a recent graduate too) joins a practice.

There is anticipation in the air as a new associate (frequently a recent graduate too) joins a practice. Not all practices are ideal for the associate and many leave. To complicate matters, most practices hire an associate (new graduate or otherwise) before the bottom line can justify the expense. This can set up for disastrous results for all parties involved. There are many things to consider when bringing on associates including understanding associate expectations (including generational issues) and tips on building relationships with your new associate.

So, is your practice ready for a new associate? Some questions for you to answer first include 1) Can the practice afford to hire an associate? 2) If the hire is replacing another associate "why" is that associate leaving? 3) Do you have a plan for building your new associates client base? If yes, what role is theirs and what is yours? 4) Are you aware of the current salary and benefit trends for associates and new graduates? 5) How does your practice lifestyle and community appeal to associates? 6) What are your long term plans for this associate? 7) What specific attributes or skills are you looking for in an associate? 8) What role would they play in your practice? Some of these answers will take time and thought. But, the answers are a crucial first step. Associates want their potential employer to be HONEST about the position and what their expectations are of their new associate.

What expectations might a new associate have from your practice? Consider the fact that nearly 33% of veterinary students now go into advanced studies ( 2006 data), many new associates are looking for an environment where they can continue to grow and learn but with new added responsibilities. Your practice needs to have an environment to make a new graduate "comfortable" in their new role. This doesn't mean hand holding them and walking them through the day but, rather it means having opportunities to discuss cases, receive feedback and most importantly ask questions. Another consideration is that many students graduate with low self-esteem. Their first year is spent for many of them unsure of their true abilities- validation and feedback especially positive feedback is very important to the new graduate. "Mentoring" is a frequent word that both owners and associates use. Be sure to have a frank and open discussion of what this means to each of you and how mentoring would occur in your practice.

If an ideal practice for associates exists they would have some if not all of these attributes listed below.

  • A team of trained assistants and technicians that allow a veterinarian to be efficient yet, are willing to teach too.

  • A client base that is growing.

  • Standards of medical care that are written down and communicated.

  • An understanding of the link between good medicine and good business.

  • Dedication to life long learning for all staff members.

  • Regular staff meetings and Regular doctor's meetings.

  • Case round or medical record discussions.

  • A sense of collegiality rather then seniority.

  • Respect for unique qualities and the willingness to develop individuals for their own and the practices benefit.

Combine these attributes and add to them a clean facility with professional yet friendly atmosphere and your practice may be an associate haven. A word of advice: don't choose to hire an associate for the purpose of molding them into the "ideal" practitioner that you want. Generation X Veterinarians (born 1964-1984) grew up distrustful of society, politicians, slick advertising and merchandising. You will not be able to easily convince them to listen without questioning.

Congratulations, you have now hired your associate. Make sure that you share the news with everyone especially your staff, your clients and the community. Place a press release in a local newspaper especially if this associate is returning to their "hometown". Prepare and plan for their first few weeks at work. Your staff will be integral to making your doctor accepted so make sure that your new associate has the chance to work with each of them and learn about their jobs and roles. On their first day- use the time for orientation, paperwork and maybe even a celebratory lunch outing. During the first few weeks, every client should be introduced to your new doctor. It is extremely important that you and your staff validate your new associate and their knowledge in front of clients. Help build their own client base by scheduling new clients especially puppies and kittens with your new associate. Check in frequently with your new associate regarding any concerns or difficulties. Review medical records together and discuss cases- don't just look at theirs but also pull some of yours. If your treatment would have differed discuss what their thought process was and what your recommended course would have been. Even if your associate isn't paid on production it is important to track their transactions. Look closely at their services and evaluate how they are doing. If they dispensed more ear cleaning solutions and medications then performed ear cytology's, it may be time to discuss medical protocols or find out if they are feeling rushed or pressured. Involve them in both veterinary and community organizations and remember to help them find balance between work and personal life. Encourage continuing education especially in client service and business education. As they grow and learn about themselves as a veterinarian do not be surprised if their career interests change. Be open to discuss future opportunities with them even if they are not with your practice.

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Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
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