Is It Time to Add a New Associate?
Meredith Rogers, MS, CMPP
Consider your workload, your alternatives and your future.
As a practice owner, you're in a good position if you have more patients than you can handle. If you have been feeling like you are rushing through appointments or not providing the appropriate level of care, it may be time to add an associate to your practice. However, success is only one reason to consider adding personnel. There are other potential motives as well:
- You want to gain a better work-life balance by reducing the hours you work.
- You’re considering retirement and searching for someone to take over the practice.
- Your current associate is taking time off, going part time or leaving.
- You’re expanding your practice hours and need someone to cover additional shifts.
- You want to offer your clients specialist care.
Consider the Alternatives
The decision to hire a new associate should not be taken lightly as it can involve significant expense and time. It may be valuable to hire an independent (unbiased) professional to audit your practice. At the very least, you should have a good understanding of your revenue, expenses, efficiencies and income potential. Evaluating these aspects of your practice may reveal inefficiencies that, when solved, may negate the need for a new associate.
- Budgeting: Associates Compensated on Production
- Advantages of Mentoring Programs
One way to increase efficiency is to maximize technology. Updating appointment software may expedite scheduling; purchasing new equipment may speed up tasks and procedures. Although the time gains may seem insignificant on their own, they are considerable when consolidated over the course of a day, and the time saved can amortize the initial expense within a short amount of time.
After a practice audit, you may find that hiring a practice manager or an additional technician or receptionist may be a more economical alternative to adding another veterinarian. Hiring a virtual assistant, in the form of a remote bookkeeper, computer expert, or marketer may also free up enough time to relieve the pressure that prompted you to consider an associate in the first place.
Deciding on Associate Type
If, after careful evaluation, you feel that adding an associate is the best option, you must decide what type of veterinarian to add. Hiring a new graduate may cost less in salary but will require extensive training that may defeat the purpose of hiring an associate in the first place, which is to free up your time. In addition, the time spent onboarding is time not seeing patients and not generating income, so a new graduate may actually be more expensive in the short term.
An experienced veterinarian can produce income almost immediately but will cost more in salary and benefits. In addition, a veterinarian who has been practicing for a while may have preconceived ideas about how things should be done that may not mesh with your practice procedures and culture. Of course, hiring a specialist will come at a premium.
Another thing to think about is whether you need a full-time associate. Perhaps hiring someone who can cover evenings or weekends would relieve just enough of your burden.
Hiring the Associate
Once you’ve made the decision to add an associate, remember the old adage, “Be slow to hire and quick to fire.” This is easier said than done because once you have identified the need, your sense of urgency in filling that need increases exponentially. Take your time in finding someone who not only has the technical skills, but who also will fit in with your overall practice culture. If yours is a solo practice, having another veterinarian working closely with you and your staff may necessitate an adjustment for everyone.
Establishing a limited probationary period, during which you can better evaluate the new associate, may save headaches later, but check with an attorney first to determine the specific requirements of such a period in your state (e.g., benefits, sick pay). At the end of the day, whether you decide to add an associate or find another solution, you should congratulate yourself on building such a successful practice that you are even considering the possibility.
Meredith Rogers has a BS degree in animal health from the University of Connecticut and an MS degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from Rutgers University. She has more than 19 years of experience creating content for a variety of health care audiences. She lives in Kingston, New Jersey, and shares her life with a horse, a dog and a cat.