Consolidators and practice owners seeking to get the most from their workforce must appreciate the importance of adequate compensation. Veterinary professionals who tirelessly labor to ensure the health of their patients and satisfaction of their clients can’t be rewarded with meager pay. Nevertheless, many consolidators are unsure of industry standards when it comes to veterinary compensation and have no idea where to begin when it comes to ensuring that their veterinarians are being paid competitive salaries.
Luckily, there are many options to choose from when trying to adequately compensate your veterinary professionals. Review this comprehensive guide for consolidators to demystify veterinary compensation and ensure your workforce is in top shape.
Dr. Ivan Zak and Ryan Leech also spoke about compensation models in the veterinary field on our podcast Consolidate That!, be sure to check it to get the most comprehensive picture.
How Much Do Veterinarians Make?
Consolidators should understand that veterinary professionals are constantly facing stressful work situations that can bear a long-term emotional toll. In addition to working long hours, many veterinary experts are obligated to deal with sick pets and their distraught owners. Like other medical professionals who discover that not every patient can be saved, veterinarians must sometimes come to terms with the grim mortality of those they’re trying to help. In light of this challenge, it’s worth reviewing how much veterinarians make in exchange for tirelessly striving to save and improve the lives of animals.
According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for veterinarians in 2020 was approximately $99,000 a year in the United States. This equals out to slightly more than $47 an hour. While this is above the national median salary, it’s imperative to remember that veterinarians are required to obtain a doctoral degree before they’re hired in the first place. This can lead to crippling student loan debt burdens that prevent financial flexibility and generate mental stress.
Additionally, many veterinary professionals are dealing with high rates of burnout and workplace exhaustion, illustrating that the money they earn is only one consideration when assessing their total compensation. Veterinary consolidators must understand that in every industry there is a link between job satisfaction and the compensation that workers receive. When it comes to veterinary professionals, higher wages are appreciated but may not be sufficient to ensure your workforce is being adequately compensated for tackling such a challenging job.
Veterinary Professionals Deserve Better Conditions
While high salaries can lure new veterinarians into the industry at a time when consolidators are seeking to grow the workforce, wages alone may not be enough. Veterinary professionals also deserve better working conditions than those they currently face. Younger vet professionals in particular, are more vulnerable to burnout and workplace exhaustion. This can impede their professional development and lead to serious personal suffering.
Burnout and fatigue are often the result of an overstretched workforce that’s in dire need of additional support. Veterinary consolidators seeking to ensure their professionals are adequately compensated should take steps to prevent emotional exhaustion from taking hold. While some consolidators may think that higher wages are enough, the data says otherwise; the AVMA reports that only a third of the veterinary workforce would recommend this profession to those seeking a job. While attractive salaries can help lure young professionals, veterinary consolidators must also ensure that the physical and emotional needs of their workforce aren’t forgotten.
This means that practice owners and consolidators should be investing in the future of their veterinarians. Prioritizing veterinary continuing education is a great way to start, as it will equip newcomers to the field with the skills and experience they need to climb the career ladder. Consolidators who subsidize the costs associated with a veterinary education will be enhancing the skills of their workforce while removing financial burdens from the backs of young professionals. A good vet salary is important, but benefits and support from higher-ups is just as important when it comes to managing veterinarian compensation.
Veterinary Compensation Models
Knowing the median pay for veterinarians is one thing — deciding upon a veterinary compensation model is another. Many consolidators justifiably ask, “How much does a vet make?” or “What’s the starting salary for veterinarians?” when they attempt to recruit newcomers to the animal healthcare industry. The answers largely depend upon which veterinary compensation model you’re relying on. How much veterinarians make a year can vary widely depending upon which system you choose to adopt for your practice or network.
The first model to review when determining how much veterinarians make in a year is the Production Method. This model ensures that veterinarians and other professionals who are involved in the production of value for a clinic or hospital receive credit for the work they’ve done. This production system is intended to motivate veterinary professionals to keep working, as they’ll earn more money for themselves by generating additional revenue for their employer. There are a few different methods of production-based compensation for consolidators to consider when determining vet salary:
- Production-based models with negative accrual. This ensures professionals are not paid more than the amount of earnings they’re calculated to have generated for the practice. They may owe money to a practice if they didn’t meet certain production targets within a given time period.
- Straight production models. These models pay veterinarians a certain percentage of the revenue that they produced for a practice within a given time period.
- Base salary with commission models. This method ensures that veterinarians are guaranteed a base salary which they supplement with commissions by reaching certain levels of revenue production for the practice.
- The ProSal model. This popular method guarantees a monthly base salary while also affording veterinarians the ability to secure a production bonus on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis.
- Simple salary models. Unlike production models, this pays a salary on a yearly basis, with no opportunities for commission.
Paying veterinary professionals a salary may not be enough, especially if they feel they’re working long hours and generating immense revenue for a practice. Veterinarians may justifiably feel they’re being underpaid the average salary for veterinarians if a salary is their only option. Base salary with commission models or the ProSal model are more likely to convince veterinarians that they’re being adequately compensated in exchange for their expertise.
Owners and consolidators should also remember that production models can backfire on employees when they take time off. A veterinarian in desperate need of a vacation or family leave may be unwilling to go due to fears that they would lose out on production pay. Being incapable of earning a production bonus because they’re not currently working could be a serious cause of worker burnout. Consolidators must ensure their workforce is adequately compensated even when time off is being taken, as the alternative is an exhausted workforce that quickly reaches its limit.
Additionally, workplace competition could occur when employees are obsessed with questions like, “How much does a vet make?” If associates are bickering over who gets access to select clients, they may grow to resent one another or even sabotage one another’s work. This kind of toxic workplace cannot be tolerated by practice owners and consolidators seeking to produce optimal patient outcomes. Thus, carefully selecting the right compensation model is of the utmost importance when it comes to bolstering profits and taking care of the workforce.
The Pitfall of the ProSal Model
The ProSal model is widely relied upon in Canada and the United States. Practice owners and veterinarians alike enjoy this model because it affords a minimum base pay while also guaranteeing opportunities for additional income by meeting production targets. Veterinarians are incentivized to work harder if they want to earn more, and practice owners can rest assured that everyone in the workforce is taking home a base pay that provides them with the financial flexibility they need.
Nevertheless, there are pitfalls to the ProSal model which consolidators should be aware of. This model may result in unethical behavior from veterinarians seeking to maximize their production in exchange for higher pay. Associates may grapple with one another over access to clients who generate high revenue streams for the clinic, for instance, depriving other clients of attention. With these professionals competing with one another, they may take actions which are contrary to the value creation plan clinics need to follow to ensure long-term growth. Sudden changes to the market — such as a decision to limit the amount of elective surgeries and other procedures — could limit overall compensation under the ProSal model.
The ProSal model may also be difficult for industry newcomers to grasp. New hires may not always understand how their pay will be calculated until they figure out and become familiar with the percentage model that a clinic has implemented. It may also frustrate them when they’re trying to determine how much they’ll owe in taxes. Similarly, clinics may find long-term budgetary planning to be difficult under a ProSal model because of changing workplace production rates which draw varying amounts of money from company coffers.
When managed properly, the ProSal model can incentivize professionals to work harder than ever before. With mindful consideration of ethics, workplace disputes and inappropriate competition among professionals can be avoided. Practice owners and consolidators should pay careful attention to how the ProSal model is employed to avoid compensation disputes that can harm the clinic’s bottom line.
Choosing an Appropriate Model for Your Veterinary Group
When determining which model is the best fit for your specific practice, consider the following questions: How many professionals do you currently employ, and how many more veterinarians do you plan to hire in the future? What is the starting salary for veterinarians that you’re comfortable offering? How much does a vet make at your clinic compared to your major competitors? How much are you willing to invest in a pay model while still planning for the future of the practice? Consolidators and practice owners will only be able to deduce which model is the best for their situation after finding the answers to these questions.
Many practices struggle with inefficiency which may only be combated with adequate compensation that incentivizes additional work for additional pay. The ProSal model is usually relied upon by those clinics seeking to get the most out of their workforce because of the supplementary earnings that associates can make by putting in more hours. Avoiding worker burnout should be a priority, however, so understand that incentivizing too much auxiliary work can backfire and leave your workforce physically depleted and emotionally frustrated.
I believe that there is a strong focus in our profession on burnout potential without a balancing voice of the successes and satisfaction. This is a hot button for me. The demands of the profession are heavy but the rewards are soul satisfying and this part gets let out so often
Debbie Hill, CVPM SPHR CCFP
Positive leadership, savvy managers who understand the needs of staff veterinarians, and financial standardization across a veterinary network should all be prioritized. New technologies which generate immense value for consolidators and make life easier for pet owners should also yield benefits for the professionals who employ them to produce better patient outcomes. Considering an array of options before deciding how to compensate your workforce is highly recommended.
Ensuring Adequate Compensation
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to veterinarian compensation, yet those consolidators who focus on the wellbeing of the workforce above all else will soon discover they’ve gained a serious advantage in this competitive industry. Be sure to focus on flexible work schedules and adequate working conditions as well as fair wages for hard work. While financial incentives are usually a reliable way to incentivize hard work, they can also lead to stiff workplace competition and burnout in your workforce which you simply can’t afford.
Consolidators should focus on adequate service pricing and collection to ensure the practice has enough money to fairly compensate its workforce. Don’t leave your veterinary professionals behind by failing to pay attention to the income generating methods that will help pay for their salaries. Practices which cannot afford competitive salaries to lure in the best industry talent will struggle to succeed.
A mix of salary with opportunities for production benefits may be your best bet. Practice owners and consolidators should stress the many benefits of working in the veterinary industry in addition to adequate compensation. Highlight the fact that veterinary professionals save the lives of beloved animals and ensure owners can spend more valuable time with their pets. Don’t be afraid to illustrate how satisfying veterinary work can be, especially when it comes to developing professional skills and workplace friendships.
Veterinary professionals work tirelessly to improve the wellbeing of animals. They reassure troubled pet owners and create immense value through their expertise. Ensuring their success and satisfaction should be a top priority for the veterinary consolidators who seek to improve this vital industry.
We wish to express our gratitude to our dear friend Debbie Hill, CVPM SPHR CCFP, for sharing her expert opinion and insights about compensation in the veterinary domain.