Experience and expectation: Lets talk fair wages

August 9, 2017
Jeff Rothstein, DVM, MBA

Dr. Jeff Rothstein is co-president and founder of Midwest Veterinary Partners, which operates more than 30 practices in the Midwestern states with headquarters in Novi, Michigan.

You have a prospective associate, but youre not sure how to compensate her based on her experience, or lack thereof, in the veterinary profession.

Photo: Shutterstock.com Q. I have a meeting coming up at my general practice with a prospective associate, and I need to know what's fair to offer her. She's an experienced veterinarian but has only ER experience so far. How do you know what to pay locally and regionally?

This is a tricky question. For those who don't hire frequently, it's a bit of an abyss. Yes, you can go online and look at lots of stats, and you can get various resources that list some averages, but how current or accurate is the information?

Not very, from what I just found searching Google. And how it relates to the workload and profitability of your practice is another question.

I recommend a multipronged approach.

Step 1: Feel out the “going rate”

To start, I try to determine a so-called “going rate” in my neck of the woods. It helps to be involved with local and state veterinary groups, because these are great resources on what's going on in the market.

Step 2: Consider applicant experience

I look at years of experience and flat-out experience; sometimes a person who's only been out three years has better experience than a seven-year graduate, so get a feel for confidence and skill level during your due diligence phase.

In your case, it sounds like you consider ER-only experience to be a negative. In general, I love these candidates because they can typically do the hard stuff. I think learning wellness care comes pretty easily, but for the most part, the ER doctor is going to have no problem removing bladder stones, gastrointestinal foreign bodies and the like. Bottom line: You're likely to need to refer less to other practices, and ER docs are used to stressful situations.

Step 3: Consider your compensation method

If I'm paying by production or using a version of Mark Opperman's ProSal formula that may make this a bit easier, because I can have some idea of what the applicant is likely to produce and can use a base salary that's a bit shy of that.

So if you think conservatively that the new doctor is likely to produce at least $450,000 and you pay 20 percent of production, then you offer a base of, say, $85,000.

I'm also asking the candidate what they produced in revenue in previous jobs and what their average client transaction was. I don't rely too much on these numbers, but it's worth the conversation. (And yes, ER compensation might be harder to compare.)

I want to know what an associate was paid, and I'm always hoping to better that by an amount that will make the candidate feel valued.

Step 4: Consider the associate's comfort level

In the case of ER doctors, I've had some that felt that it would take a while to master general practice, so they're realistic and not expecting to make what they made in the ER practice. Emergency veterinarian salaries tend to be higher.

Take into account where you live: If the cost of living is relatively high, adjust accordingly and be a bit more generous if able.

And just to prove this isn't easy (I said that in the beginning, right?), I recently attended a Mark Opperman presentation with my veterinary management team. In fact, I used his Total Compensation Statement as a basis to make an offer a few days ago. New hires just don't realize (unless you show them on the statement) that salary is just one part of the cost of employing them. Why not share with your candidates that you're not just paying $100,000-you're paying $125,000 for them in benefits, unemployment insurance and more.

Good luck with the hiring process.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, is president of the Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan.