How to find an associate


Where's Dr. Wanda? These tips can help you attract candidates and hire a great associate.

She's out there somewhere. Hiding among the recent graduates and doctors looking for a change of scenery is your ideal associate. But she'll take some effort to find. Long gone are the days of placing an employment ad in a veterinary journal and waiting for a throng of applicants to apply. There are practices that have been looking for an associate for months and even years without success. The average veterinary school graduate receives four to five offers of employment. The numbers are not in your favor.

Illustrations by Steve Pica

Despite these odds, some practices have little or no trouble acquiring new veterinarians. So what are they doing that you aren't? As the labor market changes, practices must also change how they recruit. If what you've been doing in the past is no longer working, maybe it's time to look at some fresh ideas and approaches. Let's examine the best strategies you can use to find your own Dr. Wanda.

Make friends with the Internet

Most people today turn to the Internet for almost everything, from shopping to playing games to communicating with friends and family. So can you guess the first destination for today's job applicants? That's right: the Internet. And job seekers have plenty of options. They can visit general employment sites like and, or they can use veterinary-exclusive employment sites like But just posting on a veterinary-specific site won't necessarily leave you flooded with applications. In this competitive market, you have to set your practice apart. And it starts with your employment ad.

Mark Opperman, CVPM,

To find your ideal associate, you have to sell your practice as a great place to work. So ask yourself, "What makes our practice great?" Then tout those attributes in your ad—and don't shortchange yourself. I was recently conducting a veterinary practice management class, and as part of the exercises, I asked the students to write employment ads. One practice owner seeking an associate doctor wrote a real snoozer. When I asked that doctor about her hospital, she told me they had 24-hour care, a high employee-to-doctor ratio, a digital radiography system, licensed technicians, and a recently remodeled facility. But none of that information was in her ad. That's a mistake! Those are the kinds of high-caliber features associates are looking for, and listing them in your ad can do wonders for recruiting quality associates.

In addition to touting your practice, you also have to sell associates on the surrounding area. Ask yourself, "Why do I love living here?" Another participant in my management school told me that her practice was located near a beach, in an area with great schools and less than five miles from a major city. Plus, the practice was very family-friendly. All this information needed to be in her ad—but wasn't. Keep in mind that you're not limited in words online like you are with a print ad, so you can include some of this detail—though you don't want to ramble on and on. I suggest including your Web address, the hours you expect the doctor to work, any emergency service required, and the salary and benefits you'll be offering. Some people say you shouldn't post a salary range, but I think that if you're only willing to pay $70,000 and a candidate is looking for $80,000 or $90,000, you could be wasting each other's time.

The bottom line

Spruce up your image

After viewing your ad, the next thing Dr. Wanda will likely do is visit your Web site. What's that, you say? You don't have a Web site? Well, what kind of message does that send to your potential new associate? Aren't you running an up-to-date practice? In this day and age, you need a great Web site—not a flat, static collection of facts, but an interactive, often-updated site that portrays your practice as innovative and high-tech. Does your site include a virtual tour of your facility? Can clients set appointments, request prescription refills, and get vaccination history and medical information on their pets? If not, consider upgrading your site. Your clients will be happier and you'll attract many more job applicants. Look at other practices' Web sites to get ideas. There are many reasonably priced companies that can assist you with either developing a great site or improving your current one.

Your next step is to remind all interested candidates why your practice is perfect for them. Once again, you'll need to stand out from the crowd. I've seen practices create promotional videos to send to local veterinary schools. One practice created a short video parody of the television show ER—it started with the healthcare team bursting through the emergency door with a dog on a stretcher. It was well-done and it did the trick—the practice was inundated with applicants.

A simpler and less costly approach would be to develop a recruitment folder. First, prepare a one-page write-up telling prospective job applicants about your hospital: what makes it special, what the work environment is like, where it's located, and what its "personality" is. The folder might include pictures and a short history of the practice, doctor biographies, a demographic sheet about the town, a practice brochure, and maybe even letters from other associates telling the applicant how wonderful the practice is. The packet can then be sent to veterinary schools and also to interested applicants.

Get off on the right foot

Take it step by step

I normally suggest a three-step interview process for hiring team members: an initial interview, a follow-up interview, and a working interview. Ideally, associate doctors should go through a two- or three-day working interview. This is an excellent way for the applicant to see if this is a practice he or she would like to work for, and it gives team members an opportunity to fully evaluate the applicant. If a candidate is truly serious about working at your practice, he or she will jump at the chance to do a working interview.

If you make this working interview an optional part of the interview process and if your associate doctors are contract employees, you do not have to pay a candidate for a working interview. (State laws vary, so you may wish to confirm this with your attorney or state labor department.) If you do pay the candidate, then by law they must be placed on payroll and you'll have to process them through your payroll service. That's why most practices ask applicants to complete a working interview on a voluntary basis. The candidate's expenses—like travel, meals, and a hotel room—should be paid for by the practice.

Offer your support

One of the primary perks new graduates in particular are seeking is a mentoring program. I'm fortunate enough to be able to teach at many veterinary schools throughout the year and to meet future veterinarians. When I ask them what their greatest fear is regarding their first job, almost universally they mention a lack of mentoring and being thrown into the job without enough training. So it follows that if you're going to attract a new graduate, you must have a mentoring program. And it can't just be a casual, unspoken plan. It should be a formal, written program that outlines what you're going to do with that new associate from their first day through their 90th day. I implement this kind of program in the practices I consult with, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that both new graduates and experienced veterinarians alike appreciate a mentoring program. Nobody wants to be thrown to the wolves. Don't be surprised if an applicant asks to see information about your mentoring program when they interview with you—this is a big issue to them, as it should be.

The task of finding a new associate may seem daunting, but there are plenty of amazing veterinarians looking for a job. However, to identify your perfect match, you may need to change the way you solicit candidates and promote your practice. I get tired of people telling me, "We don't have any potential candidates in our area." Of course you do—they're everywhere. They just might not want to work for you. It's your job to change that. So look within your own practice first. Are you a high-quality employer? Are you creating an environment of excellence? Do you encourage your associates to be the best they can be? Once you've created this kind of culture, let people know about it. Take a look at how you're soliciting applicants and determine what else you can do to attract a qualified doctor to your practice. Focus your efforts, and you'll be picking Dr. Wanda out of the crowd in no time.

Mark Opperman, CVPM, is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Send comments to or post your thoughts on our message boards at

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