Job satisfaction hinges on preparation


The veterinary graduate's final assignment as a student requires research, a meticulously planned budget and the right questions.

The veterinary graduate's final assignment as a student requires research, a meticulously planned budget and the right questions.

Armed with this data, students can walk into their next job interview exuding confidence that they are in control of their career satisfaction. Experts say doing your homework now can graduate you from loan checks to paychecks.

The first step is to define what you want in terms of staff support, practice culture, practice ethics and working hours, suggests Carin A. Smith, DVM, career consultant and owner of Smith Veterinary Services.

Living within budget

Next, she recommends devising a workable budget if you haven't already. Creating a budget allows you to determine precisely what type of salary is needed to live within your means.

Furthermore, the American Veterinary Medical Association has compiled comprehensive salary surveys that can help graduates determine an appropriate salary range.

"Compare to your peers," Smith says. "Include the value of benefits in your calculation. Remember to evaluate the area's cost of living: An $80,000 income in San Francisco could be equivalent to $40,000 in Montana."

Another resource Smith recommends is a book by veterinary lawyer Dr. Jim Wilson, titled "Contracts, Benefits, and Practice Management," which outlines the budgeting process.

"Do what he says: Create a budget and a cash-flow forecast to help you determine what income you need to live on. Learn about the pros and cons of salary and performance-based pay," she advises.

Not afraid to ask

Armed with a budget, experts say you're ready to pen some interview questions to assist in selecting your most desired practice.

Dr. Don Draper, PhD, MBA, professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, has a seemingly limitless bank of questions for students to ask prospective employers.

His suggestions are:

  • Does your staff support the mentoring process?

"Most students will want someone who will be able to assist them with discussions of how to manage a case," says Draper, who teaches entrepreneurship.

  • Does the practice have support staff? If so, how many?

"That gives an idea of how much technical work they, as a veterinarians, would have to do," he explains.

  • What equipment does the practice use? When was it purchased?

  • Does the practice foster a team environment?

Draper adds: "We can't paint all students with the same stroke of the brush. Some individuals might not like the team environment, but many people do."

  • Does the business employ sound financial management methods?

  • Does it maintain good medical records?

"It's critical we have good medical records, not just for legal reasons but for the practice of medicine. We can learn a lot from reviewing our own cases," Draper says.

  • What kind of diagnostic skills does the practice promote?

"If they visit the practice and watch the practitioners handle the patients, they'll be looking at whether the treatment used is appropriate for the condition," he says.

  • Does the practice perform questionable procedures?

"For example, some individuals are opposed to different types of cosmetic procedures or convenience euthanasia — things of an ethical consideration. Many young veterinarians have strong feelings about those issues. They would likely (want to know) what the practice philosophy is," Draper says.

Additionally, Dr. Jim Guenther, MBA, CVPM, a North Carolina-based veterinary practitioner and consultant, says it is crucial not to overlook a practice's average transaction.

"If the average transaction is $50, then most likely they're not promoting a lot of services. Whereas a practice that may have an average transaction of $110, $120, $130 per doctor is going to be a high diagnostic practice," he says.

Reading minds

When it's your turn to field questions during the interview, prepare yourself by "borrowing" the mind of an employer.

"... Put yourself in the shoes of an employer," says Draper. "What is it the employer is going to be looking for in a young employee?"

Possible questions Draper suggests are:

  • How well do you communicate?

  • How would you handle conflicts among staff members or between staff and clientele?

  • What are your work habits and ethics?

  • Are you willing to work more than 40 hours a week?

  • What are your long-term goals?

  • Is this a place where you plan to settle for a while or is this position a stepping-stone?

Blindingly bright future

Once you've secured the interviews, expect job offers to flood your in-box, experts say. The market for veterinarians is good in many areas in the country, they add.

When narrowing down offers, Smith advises students to spend a week working at a clinic before relocating to a new area.

"You think it's tough to set aside a week to do that? It's even tougher to move to a new city and then find out the job isn't going to work out," she says.

Stephanie Davis is a Cleveland-based editor and reporter familiar with the veterinary profession.

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