Why A Flexible Workforce Could Work In Veterinary Practices
This three-part series by Theresa Entriken briefly explores why and how an emerging drive for on-demand, high-skills talent could apply to the veterinary profession.
With the ongoing tight labor market for full-time veterinarians and veterinary nurses and technicians, it may be time for a wider shift in hiring strategy for veterinary practices.
Rather than hire to put out the fires of full-time vacancies, why not purposefully build a schedule-flexible, diversely talented segment of your team? Create positions for only morning or afternoon shifts, or two full days a week, or specific tasks for a predetermined duration. Consider gradually reducing your core, full-time team.
This would also allow strategic use of high-skills “gig” or flexible-schedule professionals. And gig professionals who desire more hours may opt to work for more than one practice—sharing their talents and experiencing a variety of practice cultures.
Shifting Veterinary Hiring Strategy
Aubrey Kumm, MSc Med (Neuroscience), BVSc, MRCVS, founder and CEO of Guava Ai, developed the first algorithm-based recruitment platform specific for the veterinary profession.
He points out that most practice owners are busy clinicians who hardly break for lunch and have little training in or time for running a business and managing people. And those who employ a practice or office manager struggle to let go and let the managers manage.
‘The first hurdle to cross is getting practice owners to understand that they should always be recruiting’ Dr. Kumm says.
If it sounds too time-consuming to perpetually recruit team members, consider the practice culture benefits and time-saving advantages. When you find an excellent candidate who fits with your team, create a position for them.
This allows you to either expand your team and open up more appointments, or lift a dispiriting workload and enhance team productivity to foster staff retention. It also grants space for underperforming team members to move on.
Dr. Kumm says that for practices to remain competitive in hiring, flexibility is key.
‘Imagine a team consisting of full-time, part-time, and ‘on-demand’ individuals. Employing two part-time veterinarians or nurses or managers is better than one full-timer because it gives you flexibility and consistency. For job seekers who prefer more flexibility than a part-time schedule and more consistency than relief work allows, companies like IndeVets are an option.’
‘You can choose your hours, work where you want to work, earn a very competitive salary package including health insurance and pension, with the flexibility to take as much time off as you want, whenever you want. These veterinarians fill the gaps as and when needed. The best of both—an Uber-like veterinary platform. In addition, the advantage for the practice owner using this type of platform rather than locum/relief veterinarians is that they come fully onboarded.’
Such a hiring strategy appears to be more aligned with the types of positions veterinary professionals may be seeking now and will continue to look for in the future.
Shifting Veterinary Workforce
Matthew J. Salois, MA, Ph.D., Chief Economist at the American Veterinary Medical Association says that a shift in the traditional thinking about what it means to be a veterinarian is necessary.
‘2021 will be the first year in which millennials will outnumber baby boomers in terms of total veterinarians. The mindset of our younger generation of veterinarians is fundamentally different than older generations. One obvious difference is that they grew up with the internet and digital technology. It’s not only a part of their life and upbringing but also that they have never known a world without it. Their ability to leverage and accept technological advancement will transform how veterinarians interact with patients and clients.’
‘Moreover, younger veterinarians are pushing back on many of our traditional work views. For example, they do not accept the necessity of a blistering 60-, 70-, or 80-hour workweek. They believe that work and home should exist if not in balance, at least in harmony. They also believe in the need for good leadership and push back on any notion that leadership means to command and control. For younger veterinarians, good leadership means, in part, good mentorship and a leader that fosters an encouraging, supportive, and healthy work environment in which employees are set up for success and are included in the decision-making process.’
Dr. Kumm agrees that the demographics and viewpoints of the veterinary workforce have shifted. He says many veterinarians today are millennial females, between 25 and 40 years old, who are not especially interested in owning a practice and are very specific about how much and for whom they work.
Yet, many individual private practice owners are middle-aged males with a different outlook on life as veterinary professionals. They are at the stage in their career where they would like to work less for more, vs. work more for less as was the norm when they entered the profession.
Dr. Kumm says these shifts could in part explain the so-called recruitment and retention crisis the veterinary profession is experiencing.
‘It is not about the money. It is about the balance between time, money, and workplace culture and what each regards as most important in that mix.’
Research concurs. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2020 Economic State of the Veterinary Profession report states:
‘As demographics continue to shift, practices will need to consider what strategies they can implement to help attract women and millennials’1.
And in their 2019 Economic State of the Veterinary Profession report, the AVMA’s economic data for 2014 to 2018 revealed that for the third time since 2016, the percentage of male veterinarians who would like to work fewer hours per week is greater than the percentage who would like to work more hours.
The data also showed that more female veterinarians would rather work fewer hours than work additional hours. In 2018, 31% of men and 37% of women wanted to work 10 to 19 fewer hours per week. And overall, the data shows that the desire to work fewer hours increases the longer veterinarians have been in the workforce2 3.
So it seems many veterinarians would like a better rhythm of work and personal time —from boomers who will likely retire by the year 2030 to millennials who are less eager to work more hours even when it means earning more. For some veterinary professionals, creating a more manageable work life and personal life tempo may include finding alternative modes of delivering patient care and medical expertise.
Will Gigs Provide Novel Job Pursuits And A Preferred ‘Workstyle’ For Veterinary Professionals?
For veterinarians and veterinary nurses/technicians considering a gig future, how amazing does a design-it-yourself work schedule, being your boss, and giving yourself raises sound?
While practice ownership or starting a new business unlocks traditional gateways to these goals, gig work may afford the ‘workstyle’ that better suits some lifestyles.
Thom Jenkins, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, co-founder and CEO of PetsApp Ltd, a mobile veterinary telehealth platform says:
‘The talents of so many veterinarians are completely lost to the profession because they are not free for long enough blocks of time to constitute a locum/relief veterinary shift. However, with telemedicine, shorter, discrete blocks of time can be monetized, allowing veterinarians to retain professional involvement and contact with a clinic team that they may already feel bonded to. Telemedicine can also ease the transition back to a more traditional role in practice if that suits the veterinarian at a later date.’
Dr. Jenkins illustrates further:
‘The first time I ever did a PetsApp demonstration, a veterinarian approached me afterward and said she hoped their clinic would implement our technology because she’d recently had to resign. She hadn’t found a way to make her schedule as a full-time associate compatible with her personal life. She saw that PetsApp would provide the opportunity to retain a more flexible role with the practice team that she loved. Seeing patients remotely using our app when it suited her schedule and booking any necessary in-clinic procedures at times that worked for everyone allowed her vision to come to life over the last year, and that has been a joy to see.’
Dr. Kumm believes the gig economy offers diverse and exciting prospects.
‘Telehealth—that is whenever communication technology (such as websites, apps, social media, blogs, and podcasts) is used to deliver health information, education, and care remotely—offers endless opportunities for the tech-savvy veterinarian or nurse. SignalPET, a company utilizing both artificial intelligence and a veterinary team to deliver real-time radiology feedback, is a good example. Offering teletriage that does not require an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship is another example. These opportunities exist and are developing at pace.’
Gig work offers the lifestyle perks of independence, flexibility, and variety (even potentially allowing you to work from home or hop around the city, country, or the globe to work), and can provide more freedom to learn and expand your skills.
Gig work may also come with more risks: less paycheck security, more income tax obligations, and footing the full bill for retirement funds, healthcare insurance, and professional membership, licensing, and liability insurance payments.
And yet, with company mergers and acquisitions and other factors that affect the wider economy, the security of holding a traditional employment position isn’t as steadfast as it once was.
The next and final article in this series ‘How veterinary practices might engage in an expanding gig economy’ addresses considerations for veterinary practices in preparing for and participating in the gig economy—and beyond.
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1- ‘AVMA’s latest economic report highlights growth, opportunities in ….’ 16 Nov. 2020, https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/avmas-latest-economic-report-highlights-growth-opportunities-veterinary. Accessed 19 May. 2021.
2- ‘AVMA 2019 Economic State of the Veterinary Profession Report ….’ 1 Nov. 2019, https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/AVMA-2019-Economic-State-of-the-Veterinary-Profession-Report-now-available. Accessed 19 May. 2021.
3- ‘Relief practice not just a temporary gig | American Veterinary ….’ 1 Dec. 2019, https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2019-12-01/relief-practice-not-just-temporary-gig. Accessed 19 May. 2021.