Love the one you're with


A financially struggling associate veterinarian crashes up against his practice owners unyielding ethical philosophy.

Walnut Animal Hospital is a busy five-doctor practice tucked in a crowded Pennsylvania suburb. Dr. Frank Haas, the owner, is proud of his team; they're skilled, good with clients and work well with each other. He also takes pride in his approach to scheduling-no associate veterinarian works more than 30 hours per week. Dr. Haas feels this way they remain alert, suffer little burnout and, when someone misses work, the staff isn't impacted severely. In turn, the arrangement allows staff to have greater flexibility for personal time and childcare. They are well compensated and loyal to Walnut Animal.

Dr. Lewis, an associate of six years, has a new baby at home. He needs more income and asks Dr. Haas for additional hours. Dr. Haas refuses, reminding Dr. Lewis of his practice philosophy of a 30-hour workweek.

Though he understands Dr. Haas' position, Dr. Lewis knows he has to change something. He certainly doesn't want to leave Walnut Animal, so he decides to get creative. He contacts several local pet shops that require a licensed veterinarian to examine and care for the animals on the premises. He finds a facility that impresses him with its integrity and commitment to the animals. Decision made! He makes plans to speak with Dr. Haas the next day.

Unfortunately, things don't go as smoothly as Dr. Lewis hoped. Dr. Haas doesn't approve of pet shops in general. He believes the pipeline for their inventory is unscrupulous puppy mills-and that it's inevitable that his clinic will be associated with the pet shop in question. He refuses to listen to Dr. Lewis' claims about the shop's trustworthiness.

Chasing down the dollar

Dr. Lewis' contract allows him to work in other veterinary capacities-he's an at-will employee. And Dr. Haas' philosophy of mutual respect as the foundation of a viable working relationship is in place for a reason-if either the employer or the employee becomes unhappy with their situation, there's an opportunity to sever ties without contractual red tape that could lead to litigation.

Dr. Haas isn't without sympathy for Dr. Lewis' dilemma. He even offers to assist Dr. Lewis in procuring consulting options for additional income, because that wouldn't conflict with his philosophy. But that doesn't appeal to Dr. Lewis. He decides to remain at Walnut Animal and make other adjustments to his lifestyle in order to make ends meet. And he's now quietly entertaining the idea that his future may be at another hospital after all.

So, what do you think? Would you fight for your right to make money however you see fit? Does Dr. Lewis have a right to work at a facility of his choice during his unscheduled hours, or is Dr. Hass being unreasonable with his demands?

Rosenberg's response

Many veterinary employers are often opinionated and even unfair when it comes to their demands on staff members. When I was a young veterinarian, I worked in a clinic where my boss did not allow the use of syringes larger than 12 cc's. I questioned this edict and was told, “That's the way we do it here.”

Still, short of being directed to do something unprofessional, associates must adhere to their employer's directives. It's not unfair for an owner to direct the professional staff to follow his practice philosophy. If a staff member has a problem with that directive, such as in the case with Dr. Lewis, he or she must weigh the pros and cons of the situation and come to a decision about remaining with the employer. I must agree with Dr. Haas.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. Although many of his scenarios in “The Dilemma” are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

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