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What's in your paycheck?


Salary negotiations are a balancing act for veterinary practice owners and associates.

Yearly reviews can be a trying time for veterinary practice owners and associates alike. It's a good idea for both parties to do some research and gather some figures ahead of time—there's a lot to consider before having "the talk."

As an employer, I find it helpful to see salary ranges and get a better understanding of the marketplace from a source like the 2012 Veterinary Economics Business Issues Survey (dvm360.com/paycheck) but it doesn't necessarily dictate what we will or are able to pay our own doctors. What I come away with from the survey is that there's quite a range between the lowest- and highest-paid veterinarians.

Jeff Rothstein, DVM, MBA

So when practice management or owners negotiate compensation with their associates, it's also helpful to consider the following factors that have an impact on the doctor's future earnings:

> How long has the doctor been out of school?

> How long has the doctor worked for the hospital?

> How much revenue does the doctor produce?

> What type of schedule does he or she work (number of hours and after-hours work)?

> How much does the facility cost (newer facility and equipment vs. older facility or less equipment)?

> What is the owner's profit or ROI (return on investment) for ownership of the practice? (Less profitable hospitals don't typically provide lucrative compensation.)

> What is the debt service of the practice?

> What is the supply and demand of veterinary services in your area?

But it's not just practice owners who have homework to do. Associates should explore the earnings potential in any position before they sign on and while they work there; that is, they should be inquiring about and researching what the growth potential will be over the next few years or more. For example, an associate could start at a competitive salary range (which the employer offered to get him or her in the door), but there may be few or minimal increases in pay planned on a regular basis—if at all.

A lot depends on where an associate works. A practice with little debt or without an expensive facility may have better cash flow and thus be capable of better compensation. By the same token, associates need to look at what will be the best overall fit for them, which may be a mix of earnings and overall job contentment.

But enough beating around the bush: Here's my opinion on veterinary associate wages. There's a downward trend. No associate wants to hear that, but we're seeing that many veterinary practices have been down in revenue over the past three to five years. To make matters worse, the demand for veterinarians—particularly in small animal practice—has dropped.

Ambitious associates still have the potential to perform well in the marketplace in terms of compensation, but they have to be choosy about where they work. They need to ask some important questions: How much revenue does the practice produce and amongst how many doctors? If an associate can't produce more than $500,000, then he or she is likely to earn less than $100,000.

Associates need to be up front and get a feeling for their earning potential. Is the hospital growing? Are they overstaffed with veterinarians, and as a result, everyone earns less due to inefficiency? By asking the right questions and doing some investigating ahead of time, the payoff—and paycheck—for associates can be much bigger in the long run.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board Member Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, is president of the Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan.

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