Best Practices for Modern Veterinary Recruitment

The market for veterinary services has grown steadily in recent years – and shows no signs of stopping. According to the AVMA’s 2019 Economic State of the Veterinary Profession Report, household spending at veterinary clinics reached $28 billion in 2016, an increase of 8% from 2012.  

But the heightened demand coincides with record low unemployment rates for veterinarians, technicians and nurses. Hospital owners are left in short supply when it comes to staffing, making it more difficult to fully take advantage of the boom in millennial pet owner spending. Furthermore, veterinarian-owned hospitals may struggle to compete with the budgets of large corporate hospitals for top candidates.  

A lost candidate is not just a lost revenue opportunity. Patient care also suffers when hospitals lack adequate staffing. Given the stiff competition, high demand for services, and short talent supply, veterinary hospital owners must take a more strategic, modernized approach to hiring to ensure optimal practice growth and standards of patient care.   

When it comes to staffing, don’t delay 

How can owners make sure they have the right level of expertise and capabilities in their hospitals? For starters, it helps to have a solid workforce plan with at least a three-year forecast. If you begin the recruiting process when you receive a resignation notice, you’re already behind. According to Paul Diaz, founder of Hire Power Consulting, filling a veterinary vacancy can take anywhere from six to nine months with location being a significant determining factor. It’s also important to keep in mind that a new hire will need time to ramp up before achieving full productivity. “They need time to warm up, learn your processes, assimilate with their new team and build their client base to become fully effective”, Diaz explains.  

Diaz recommends a multi-pronged, strategic approach to staffing. First, take the long view in terms of the career trajectory of your current staff. How many will be retirement eligible in the next few years? Do you have any staff who simply aren’t a good fit? Have you assessed potential flight risks? Understanding your current workforce is always step one.

Next, keep a close eye on your practice’s current performance. How is your client base changing? Are you experiencing a higher rate of growth than in past years? Are you turning clients away due to staffing issues? How’s your inventory control? Are your processes as efficient as they can be? Quantifying losses you’ve grown accustomed to accepting can be an eye-opening exercise that can help you develop more competitive offers. As you begin to answer these questions, the need to start recruiting may become more urgent than it initially appeared.  

According to Diaz, when recruiting in a highly competitive industry like ours you must use ALL of your resources starting with your most valuable resource, your current team. An external recruiting agency is a great idea for a busy practice, but if you’re willing to pay an external recruiter $10-$15K to find a candidate, why not offer that money to your current staff as a referral bonus? Who would be a better advocate for your hospital – someone who’s never stepped foot in it, or one of your loyal teammates? An internal referral program has so many benefits and can be a great retention tool if implemented correctly. Belonging to a Network such as VMG is great, as it’s another resource that should be leveraged for transfer opportunities and even a larger referral network. The resources available to you are only limited by your creativity.   

It’s a candidate’s world – and the experience will make the difference 

If it’s been a while since you last hired, keep in mind that standards have changed. Salary levels are higher than in the past and continue to get higher each year. As the demand for talent continues to rise, it’s your job to compete for candidates, not the other way around. But money is not the only way to win, says Diaz. It’s important to think holistically about the entire candidate experience. When a candidate has several offers which are relatively equal, whoever provided the best experience will win.  

Embrace digital hiring tools such as video conferencing and automated interview scheduling. Be prepared to communicate mainly via text and don’t act as if a candidate is of lesser quality because of it. Although the first actual phone conversation may be called a “phone interview”, do not turn it into a technical Q&A session. The first phone call should be a casual conversation intended to get a sense of the candidate’s personality and for you to answer some basic questions about your hospital.  

On the day of the candidate’s visit, is everyone at the practice aware and ready to make them feel welcome? Are you planning a panel interview or multiple individual interviews? Either way, be sure your interview process is coordinated and discuss all the questions to be asked prior to the interview. This will ensure the candidate isn’t answering the same question asked by several different people. Failure to do so will leave the candidate with a perception that your hospital is unorganized and does not communicate well. Diaz advises DVMs to steer clear of generic questions – instead ask the candidate to respond to real-life cases for a more natural, relevant conversation. The best interviews are those in which a natural dialog was maintained from start to finish instead of the traditional, “I ask, you answer” style.  

Finally, don’t be afraid to add some flair. In a sea of sameness, the fact that you rolled out the red carpet (literally – this has been done) and went the extra mile to make the candidate’s experience a memorable one can put your hospital over the top – sometimes even if your compensation package is lower.  

True mentorship and belonging with VMG 

Hiring in 2021 is full of tough tradeoffs. Above all else, you want to make a careful, measured decision on who will treat your patients, but there’s very little time to ponder. If you don’t move quickly, potential candidates will go elsewhere, and then you face the painful cost of a vacancy in your practice.  

We’re helping to make sure new graduates are ready to hit the ground running through the VMG mentorship program. It pairs recent graduates with hospital owners so they can make meaningful progress through hands-on training from an experienced clinician. When your success is theirs, true mentorship strengthens both practice and profession.  

On the whole, modern veterinary recruitment takes planning, agility – and a good bit of creativity. At VMG, we make sure our members have access to the resources they need to successfully recruit and onboard new staff. In our study groups, you can connect with other owners and learn from their approaches to crafting a great candidate experience while consulting experts like Paul Diaz. To learn more about becoming a member, contact our Member Services today.    

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