Written by Joric McLean

Choosing where you want to work is as important as choosing a significant other. You will most likely spend more time at your clinic, than you will at home with loved ones. Having great and competent colleagues can be challenging. It may take two or three practices to find the right combination of values and people to spend 40 plus hours a week with. The US marketplace is at least a decade away from having enough supply of veterinarians to manage the demand of patients and clients. But as tuitions rise, students will choose other less costly degrees. I believe this is already happening and it is creating a bigger burden on the current vets to produce and cover the marketplace. Oh, and you are trying to balance home life on top of all of it.  I spoke to three new grads last week (May 2021) and the debt load for each is above $500,000. That is CRAZY! I’m stressed out just thinking about that type of debt. Factor in the daily pressures of balancing family life, stress at work, an increase in compassion fatigue, the suicide rates amongst veterinarians, and the veterinary profession may no longer be as appealing to younger individuals. However, for those of you who chose this profession, veterinarians have more power than you may realize. It is my belief you are in the driver’s seat when choosing a job out of college, or when you need to transition to another clinic for work. There is an old coach that used to say to me, “Look out for Number 1. And don’t step on Number 2.” It’s your career, your life, you and your loved ones should be the main priority when thinking about a good place to work. I’m hopeful both new and experienced vets will read this and use some of the information when it is time to consider an employer.

  1. Negotiate your salary – As a doctor, you are in high-demand. I am guessing many of you work extra hours due to not having enough doctors to cover the client appointments. As vets are not growing on trees, employers need you in the worst way and they want to secure great talent. Clients and patients need you too! My recommendation is to ask for 20% more than what is being offered. We are living in a time when doctors are able to command higher salaries than normal due to supply shortage. Ask for a signing bonus. A cursory search on national job boards shows everything from no signing bonus up to $50,000.  If a practice wants the best, they should pay for it. When in doubt, ask for more. That last statement sounds like I am asking you to become a greedy capitalist. That is not my intention. I understand most of you reading this did not enter the veterinary industry for the money. For me, the “why” you should ask for a high salary and bonus is three-fold. First, it’s supply and demand. There are not enough of you, so practices should be paying more. Second, many veterinary businesses are run by fellow vets, and they are banking on the fact you will accept whatever number they put in front of you. They know veterinarians are often hesitant to talk money and will use that to their advantage. Know your worth and make a counteroffer. The most important “why” is your future self. The more you make now, the sooner you may be able to retire.  As a mom, you may want to work part-time or step away from practicing for a while. Having a higher salary early in your career allows you some flexibility as your career continues. Don’t sell yourself short.
  2. Negotiate your time off – Contracts will outline vacation time, holidays, and sick time. Or the contract will state your time off follows whatever is outlined in the company’s handbook. You can negotiate your time you want off and make sure that is noted in your contract. Negotiate time off before you sign your contract. As long as what you are asking for does not violate state or federal law, ask for as much time as possible. Many companies have a vesting schedule for time off. Meaning, 1 year worked equals x-number of days off, 5 years worked equals x + y-number, etc. Find out what the maximum number of days are available to senior staff and ask for it right away, versus waiting 5,7 or 10 years to get to the max. I asked for the max at my last two employers and received it. More importantly, take your full allotment of time off every year. This is the “do as I say, not as I did” portion of the blog. I was the typical person who rarely took time off. It was not until I met my wife, my mindset changed. It could have had something to do with her demand that I take time off to travel or she would be moving on to another relationship. But that is a different blog for another time. The majority of the US workforce does not take all of their annual paid time off. In the vet business, it is even worse. Sometimes doctors feel guilty, yes, GUILTY, for taking time because others may not be able to. Your mind, your body, your loved ones, co-workers and clients will appreciate it. A de-stressed and recharged you may be the most valuable asset to a clinic.
  3. Negotiate your hours – Standard contracts will have a minimum-hours worked, but rarely will contracts have a ceiling for hours. Put a ceiling in the contract and hold your employer to it. Of course, you are not going to walk out of a surgery or exam. It’s not in your DNA, but you should note the extra time worked and find a way to work less hours during the next few shifts to even out the extra time you put in.
  4. Find a Psychologist as soon as your medical benefits start – This should be as routine as lining up a medical Doctor, an OB, a Dentist, or Optometrist. This job tests the mettle of the most strong-willed individuals. Make routine appointments to have a mental health professional help clear your head and keep your mind right. I have used a psychologist throughout my career, and I feel we all need a mental tune up now and then. Plus, the mental health movement if you will, is at a point where more people feel comfortable opening up about their challenges. Counseling sessions may help curb some of the compassion fatigue cases, and maybe save a few lives in the process.
  5. Go with the employer that treats you the best – I found that many vets took the first offer made to them, as if there were no other jobs available. I encourage you to go on multiple interviews and learn what many businesses have to offer before making a decision. Take into account the culture, hours, time off, and salary from several practices before choosing the position that will be the most beneficial to your mental and physical well-being. You may come to a point when the values of the practice you currently work at no longer align with yours. It’s ok. Not many people work 30 years for the same employer. Businesses change as does their leadership style and principles. People change. Life happens as your priorities change from being single to married/partnered, to having a family. When it is time for a change, embrace a new opportunity.
  6. Have an attorney review your contract – I saved the best for last. To me, this is the most important thing to do. I am certain 90% of the doctors I worked with never consulted an attorney regarding the contract they signed. Why do I believe this? It is due to the many questions or concerns brought up by doctors after they signed the contract, about the contents inside the contract. It may cost $200-$500 to have an attorney review the contact. Do it, if nothing else than for the reasons I outlined in this post. Contracts are written for the benefit of the employer, not the employee. You already spent well into the six-figure mark to become a DVM. An attorney will point out issues or concerns in a contract that you may not be aware of. Even if you are well into your career and reviewing a new opportunity, have an attorney review the contract. There may be language in a contract that is not legal by state or federal law, and some of the veterinary contracts I have seen from many companies are filled with old and antiquated policies and provisions no longer used in the 2021 veterinary industry.