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Advice from an Alumnus

Don’t Do a Bad Job of Hiring a Good Associate

Hiring an associate can be really rewarding- but it can also be a real ordeal.  You may be replacing a retiring doctor, as was my case, with the retirement of my father.  You may be adding a doc to accommodate growth- congratulations!  You may be looking to take yourself off the front lines for a slower pace or to spend more time on management or ownership duties. These different situations all require you as a practice owner to perform the same task: find, hire and keep great talent for your business.

1. Know your finances. Figuring out how much you can pay should take only a few keystrokes in the practice management software or a call to a good consultant. If it takes more than that, getting ready for a new hire is an excellent opportunity for you to get the practice’s finances in order. Whichever scenario has you looking for great talent, you need to have the financial management side of the practice healthy- or you’ve already tanked your odds of attracting and keeping somebody great.

I didn’t have an exact figure calculated for the total cost of paying both an experienced doctor and a new doctor while they shared the workload of a single doctor.  I did have a pretty good estimate, as retiring Dr. Gates and I reviewed the numbers every day and have since day one.  I’ve seen from the time I started what each of us grosses, so I had the opportunity to learn first hand the impact of hiring a new associate; it took several years for my numbers to equal my father’s.  While I might have been more comfortable making offers sooner had I pulled out my TI-85 and an Excel spreadsheet, I doubt I would have calculated a significantly different salary than I got from pulling production numbers from the clinic’s practice management software.

2. Know the value of a good associate. Practice owners should consider that bringing in the right associate is worth going to the limit of their predetermined budget- for more and perhaps different reasons than you might think. It is penny wise and pound foolish to save what amounts to one or two day’s receipts when setting salary offers- and for what? You are deliberately creating an environment in which the associate feels devalued. Who wants to devalue the very asset they are buying? Collectively, the employment experiences of the author and the more than forty veterinarians consulted for this piece point to this: if you want someone to do their best for your clinic, they have to know how much you value them.  When it comes to hiring a new associate, whether a potential business partner or a short term part timer, your salary offer is your first chance to express that value- and you know what they say about first impressions!

3. Make the right offer. How does a practice owner know if their offer is going to knock a candidate’s socks off... or be a big turn-off? I was limited to local anecdote- not how an evidence based practitioner like me prefers to operate. It’s a tough spot to be in, but not nearly as tough as what was to come.  My new associate was a recent graduate coming off of a very good contract, one that knocked my socks off.  I worried any offer that fit my budget would be a turn-off.  I started on the higher end of my offer range, and ended up a little higher still.  

Does it rub me the wrong way that I paid the high end of what I had figured on?  No way.  I found an associate I wanted, and I felt it was a good use of the practice’s money to make sure my offer was at the top of their list.  Good talent is hard to find, expensive to train, highly productive if well managed and therefore worth retaining.

Hiring and keeping top veterinary talent is not entirely under the control of the practice owner.  However, practice owners put themselves in a much better position to retain excellent, productive associates by treating them as professional equals and appropriately compensating them. The cost of having to repeat the hiring process when good talent leaves is high.  When we take a holistic approach to the hiring, compensation and retention of associates, everybody wins: the clinic owner, the associate and the clients.

  Dr. Ryan Gates ’05, owner of Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

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