When veterinary employees seek greener pastures


Are you overstepping your boundaries by hiring an employee from a competing veterinary clinic? Read on to find out.

Dr. Lillian Keys has been practicing in her community for 18 years. She prides herself in veterinary medical excellence and unequaled customer service. She believes her veterinary staff is invaluable and their compensation should be commensurate with their skills. This has made her a successful practitioner through good times and bad.

One of her clients visited a neighboring veterinary practice, Highway Veterinary Hospital, to have a pet's torn ACL repaired by a board-certified veterinary surgeon. Dr. Keys was frequently in contact with the surgical practice in order to manage the patient's minor postoperative problems. Each time she called, Carol the receptionist was courteous, helpful and engaging. Dr. Keys was so impressed that she called again to ask if Carol would be interested in taking a position at her clinic. Dr. Keys mentioned the compensation and benefits, both of which were higher than Carol's existing package. Carol subsequently interviewed with Dr. Keys and elected to change jobs.


Around the same time, Dr. Keys received a response to a receptionist ad she had recently placed in the town newspaper. The response came from an applicant who coincidentally worked at the same veterinary facility as Carol. Dr. Keys interviewed and hired this candidate as well. In a span of two weeks, Highway Veterinary Hospital had lost two valued employees to Dr. Keys' practice.

It was not long before Dr. Owens, owner of the Highway Veterinary Hospital and previous employer of Dr. Keys' new receptionists, called to speak with Dr. Keys. Dr. Owens was incensed. He accused Dr. Keys of stealing valued employees. He went on to label her as an unethical and unprofessional veterinarian. How would she feel, he asked, if her local colleagues went around poaching her staff without regard for the impact it would have on her clinic?

Dr. Keys was taken aback. She didn't think she did anything illegal or unethical. Veterinary staff members are not the possessions of the facilities they work for. It is their choice to change their employment when better opportunities are presented. In addition, Dr. Keys thought Dr. Owens' anger was misdirected. He should've first considered why his valued employees might want to leave their workplace. If their compensation and work environment were ideal, it's likely that they wouldn't choose to move elsewhere. It was, in fact, his own employment parameters that led his staff members to change hospitals, not the actions of his receptionists or fellow veterinarian.

However, Dr. Owens maintained that Dr. Keys had overstepped her bounds. He vowed not to collaborate with her clinic when future veterinary medical needs arose. He considered her actions a form of legal poaching, and in his mind, this was unforgivable.

Rosenberg's response

There are several options a veterinarian can explore when confronted with a staffing need similar to that of Dr. Keys. Some practitioners will simply avoid other practices' employees because they do not want to create potential ill will in their veterinary community.

I think it was very presumptuous for Dr. Owens to believe it was wrong that his staff members were offered the option of improving their job situations. Ideally, they should have come to Dr. Owens, told him they were considering another position and allowed him to decide if he wanted to match the new offer. I think Dr. Owens was understandably aggravated, but his anger was misdirected. His employees have the right to better their positions and his colleague had a responsibility to her own practice, which was in fact a local competitor.

Dr. Owens should have done some introspective thinking. Did his employee compensation need adjusting? Was his workplace environment all that it could be?

Veterinarians are healthcare professionals, but they are also small-business owners. Competition is a fact of life, and it must be dealt with by formulating a well-thought-out business plan—not an angry diatribe that makes one look like a victim.

Get in touch

Do you agree with Dr. Rosenberg? We'd like to know what you think. E-mail us at dvmnews@advanstar.com or post your thoughts at dvm360.com/community or facebook.com/dvm360.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. He is a member of the New Jersey Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

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