A veterinarian at work
Words by:
Andrew Heller — IndeVets co-founder and IndeVet #1

I recently witnessed three veterinarians from the same practice quit without notice, all on the same day! Pretty extreme, I know. But as an owner or manager of a practice, it’s imperative that you understand what makes an associate quit on you. Here are some of the most common reasons I hear from veterinarians I speak with (FYI… I talk to a lot of them):

  • It’s a toxic workplace – often expressed as “management issues”

  • I am undervalued – I get no appreciation for going above and beyond, day-in and day-out.

  • I’m under-appreciated and my advice often gets ignored

  • There is inflexible scheduling – I am sick of working so many weekends and I can’t ever have a personal day.

  • It is hard to schedule any time off! My PTO is usually only approved if I can switch with another doctor or the owner/medical director can find coverage for me

  • I’m overworked (and underpaid)

  • We’re understaffed and it’s affecting the quality of medicine I provide to my clients

  • There are poor medical standards with a focus on quantity over quality

Any one of these complaints in the workplace can eventually push your associate over the edge and ultimately lead to burnout. Unless your associate is relocating across the country, you better believe they are leaving for one of these reasons, even if they don’t tell you so in their exit interview. We all know that old phrase, “It’s not you, it’s me” really means “it’s you!”

Step 1: Self Reflection

After you lose an associate, your first step must be self-reflection. If you can’t determine quickly which one of those reasons above was the cause, I suggest you anonymously survey your remaining staff. Acknowledge that the practice has its faults and explain that your goal is to make changes for the better. That can put people at ease.

Step 2: Take a deep breath and commit to change

Admitting you have a problem is always the first step. Once you have discovered the problem, commit to fix it or else prepare for a mass exodus if it hasn’t already occurred. Solutions for many of your problems will not be painless, but they are necessary.

Step 3: Plan and execute

  • Ridding yourself of toxic employees may be the toughest challenge – often they are your most skilled employees – but not doing so will hurt much more if you allow them to stay.

  • Moving schedules around to make everyone happy is time consuming and frustrating. Consider offering different pay structures for fewer hours, or offer higher pay for the tough to fill slots. People love choices. Either way, acknowledging your employees’ preferences and being more flexible is a good start.

  • Listen to your staff, give them a say in how things are done, and show them that their opinions matter. People just want to be heard. You don’t have to agree but be prepared to explain your choices.

  • Adjusting prices to allow for a more qualitative vs. quantitative approach may not be possible for every practice in every situation. However, it’s been proven that allowing more exam time can actually increase your bottom line as doctors recommend more necessary diagnostics and have more time for communication. Plus, it’s just better medicine and generally standard of care.

  • Most importantly, help your doctors who are burning out. Start by bringing in additional veterinarians as quickly as you can. Hire more technicians or assistants to support an efficient work environment. A part-time doctor, or someone who can provide a flexible solution for your needs is ideal. But not just a warm body. You will need veterinarians who are friendly, flexible, and eager to help you; those who can connect quickly with your team, adjust to your protocols, and help lead by example. Those are the only types of veterinarians we hire at IndeVets, so starting with us is a great option.

In today’s world, great veterinarians are in short supply. It’s important to maintain self-awareness and adjust how you manage your practice, in order to hold on to the ones you have.

Dr. Andrew Heller is chief growth officer for IndeVets.

More from IndeVets:

5 things to consider when hiring a new vet

Why soft skills trump surgical skills

Top 5 attributes of great veterinarians

Partner with IndeVets