Veterinary recruiting: How one hospital group makes it work

March 28, 2019
Kristi Reimer Fender, News Channel Director

Kristi Reimer is editor of dvm360 magazine and news channel director for Before taking over

OBrien Veterinary Group invests in the long game and the short game to fill its need for DVMs.

stock.adobe.comAt O'Brien Veterinary Group, a network of 13 animal hospitals consisting of emergency, feline and general practice in Illinois and Indiana, the recruiting (and retention) of doctors is serious business. Cassie Fredericks is the group's director of business development, and she leads recruiting efforts as well as identifying practices that would be good potential acquisitions. But these days, she says, “the bulk of what I do is recruiting.”

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Fredericks recently spoke with dvm360 about how her hospital group approaches recruiting veterinarians, and she welcomes other practices to use applicable ideas in their own efforts to hire doctors. Here's a closer look.

Make your hospital a place veterinarians want to work

Fredericks says O'Brien Veterinary Group has a short-term and a long-term strategy when it comes to recruiting. “We're not sure how long the current challenges with hiring will last, but we're setting ourselves up to recruit long term,” she says. “To do this we try to make our hospitals a place people want to work. We work hard to take care of our veterinarians.”

How do they do this? By making sure salaries are competitive. By preventing doctors from feeling like they're constantly squeezed and under tremendous pressure. By promoting high-quality medicine. “Each year our staff receives raises based on revenue growth at their hospital, along with time for vacaction and CE, and we offer a 401(k).”

Mentorship is also a major emphasis. “We don't want our doctors to feel like they're alone-they have others they can reach out  to,” Fredericks says. To facilitate this, management makes a communication platform available exclusively to veterinarians so they can be in constant communication.

With varied areas of expertise represented on the veterinary staff-exotics, feline, emergency and so on-questions about a case can readily find answers. “The doctors are the ones who drive the mentality of each practice, set the vision, and decide with the team what they'll be doing in the community,” Fredericks says.

Adapt to the new generation

O'Brien Veterinary Group hosts a number of veterinary externs in its practices, and Fredericks feels this is an important tool for future recruiting. She acknowledges that taking these neophyte doctors under their wing can be frustrating-even exhausting-for doctors, but this is the future of the profession. “They deserve the time and energy it takes to bring them into the fold,” she says.

She emphasizes that externships are the “long game” part of her recruiting strategy. “You might have to take externs year over year before you find someone who wants to stay and live in that area,” she says.

But the benefits go beyond the potential for immediate new hires. “Being able to provide externships also helps the practice stay connected to the younger generation and understand what they want,” Fredericks says.

And all those stigmas around millennials? They're mostly due to a lack of understanding between generations, Fredericks maintains. “We need to be understanding of the needs of new graduates, whether we agee with them or not,” she says. “There are great things about this generation. They want to take care of themselves, and that's a good thing.”

To that end, Fredericks and her team try to accommodate millennials' desire for flexibility if they possibly can. “They appreciate that, and it makes individuals receptive to working with us,” she says. “It may not work out every time, but we really try. Each practice does its own scheduling. And funny enough-when you get two vets together, they can usually work it out. It's about treating people like adults.”

One of the most common questions Fredericks gets during interviews is this: “Do you expect me to take the 5 p.m. walk-in emergency?” Her answer: “We expect you to take care of our clients to the best of your ability.” Does the patient need hospitalization? Then an ER referral may be the best option. Can the veterinarian see the client and help the pet without overburdening him- or herself? “When we explain it that way, we've never had a problem with a veterinarian who's not willing to do that,” Fredericks says.

In addition to the strategies discussed above, Fredericks' team also attends veterinary school career fairs-some even let you set up and conduct interviews during the event.

Still, it's definitely not as easy as it used to be, Fredericks admits. “We're having to get creative in the way we approach it,” she says. “It's not as simple as placing an ad and getting 10 applicants. We work hard on the wording of our ads so we set ourselves apart from other hospitals and emphasize what makes us wonderful at what we do. And we look at the platforms students and vets are spending their time on, whether it's Instagram or another social media outlet.”

While Fredericks admits that her situation in a multi-hospital group makes some aspects of recruiting easier, “I would love to see single-practitioner hospitals be successful in their recruiting,” she says. “These current challenges are nothing they can't overcome if they put their minds to it. If they're willing to change and rethink their approach, they can do it.”