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We know where you spend your Saturdays
Almost 90 percent of you are are at work. Maybe it's time to buck the trend.
Saturday hours are something of a tradition; 77 percent of practices that open on Saturdays have maintained weekend hours for more than 10 years, according to the 2005 Veterinary Economics Business Practices Study. Ninety-one percent have offered Saturday hours for at least six years. But there is one bright spot: Almost half of weekend workers keep it to half a day or less on Saturday.
Still, there are clear downsides to working on weekends. Here's how one practitioner summed up the problem: "It's not fun to be here on Saturday. And when they can, clients put off medical problems until Saturday when staffing is minimal. 'She was getting sick on Monday, so we watched her Tuesday, and she was getting worse,' the client says. 'By Wednesday she was really sick, so Thursday we called for an appointment. Yesterday I only worked a half-day and golfed 18 holes in the afternoon and hoped that she'd make it until today, Saturday. So you can see, she's pretty sick now.'
"I also lose money on cases seen on Saturday, because we're rushed and overlook work and charges. Finally, my staff doesn't want to work on Saturdays.
Figure 1: How many hours are you putting in?
"We went Monday-to-Friday about 15 years ago. The change has meant less turnover. We took no loss in income and lost only a few clients—mostly people we were glad to lose. Besides, plumbers, electricians, appliance repair people, dentists, physicians, insurance agents, and government workers don't work on Saturdays! Why should we?"
What your colleagues say
This doctor isn't alone in thinking the price is too high. A solo practitioner with 30 years in practice says, "It's my time to be closed on Saturday." And another respondent explains, "I need time for management chores, and I'd like some personal and family time after 20 years in practice."
Figure 2: Exploring your options
No surprise, team members don't enjoy working weekends, either. And 40 percent of doctors with Saturday hours say the biggest challenge is nonveterinary staffing. Understandably, owners seem to be trying to manage this challenge by scheduling fewer people.
Possible influences on profitability
Twenty-three percent more respondents schedule fewer than six full-time equivalent staff members on Saturdays than on typical weekdays. And 28 percent more respondents scheduled only one doctor on a Saturday than scheduled only one on weekdays.
Eighty-two percent of respondents to the 2005 Veterinary Economics Business Practices Study report they provide the same level of care on Saturdays as weekdays. But Dr. Robin Downing, owner of Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo., is skeptical. "Most small-to mid-sized practices don't maintain the regular, full-strength staff they use the rest of the week," she says. "And without the team, it's hard not to compromise the care you offer." She adds that the standard of care in most areas has changed enough that emergency hospitals are in a better position to address 'big' cases than a Saturday-staffed primary care practice.
Only 2 percent of respondents split Saturday hours with nearby clinics. But 14 percent say they'd consider it. The advantage: "Many staff members would be willing to work one or two Saturdays each month if they understood the big picture," says Dr. Downing. So if you're interested in that kind of solution, try asking around. You may find more takers than you'd think.
In a final argument for closing on the weekend, Dr. Downing cites the priorities of the next generation of veterinarians. "The valedictory address at one of the veterinary schools in Canada this year addressed the whole concept of working to live and not living to work," says Dr. Downing. "Our up-and-coming colleagues value balance between their work and personal lives." So closing on Saturday could make your practice more attractive to potential associates. And what's more, she says, "The most important decision a veterinarian can make is not to try to be all things to all people."