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Recruiting and Hiring Veterinarians as a Small Employer

Hiring veterinarians is as challenging as it has ever been, and the current hiring landscape is contributing to the situation.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, there was already a shortage of veterinarians. During that time, there were people in the profession who said there were too many veterinarians and that there would be unemployed veterinarians on street corners. But we at our recruiting firm knew that wasn’t true. Our firm placed more veterinarians during the Great Recession than we ever placed in the years up to that point. There were recruiters in other industries like Information Technology, Construction, and Aviation who had no jobs to fill and who wondered why we had so many job openings.


Challenges involved with hiring veterinarians

According to a recent statement by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the number of U.S. veterinarians has been increasing at a rate of only 2.7% each year. In 2019, there were 2,000 to 3,000 more job openings than veterinarians available to fill those openings. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), between January of 2019 and May of 2021, there were 18 positions open in their Career Center for every veterinarian seeking a job, six positions for every technician and assistant, and 12 for other Veterinary positions. This would explain why the unemployment rate for veterinarians is so low. According to the job search site Zippia, since 2013, the unemployment rate in the Veterinary profession has decreased from 1.0% to 0.2%.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the BLS in September of 2022, veterinarian jobs are projected to grow by 19% between 2021 and 2031. We’re already two years into this, and keep in mind these are veterinarian jobs. Technician and assistant jobs are not included in this.

The BLS is projecting 4,800 job openings for veterinarians each year, on average, over the decade, with approximately 1,500 of those representing brand-new positions. The rest of those job openings will be to replace workers who transferred to different occupations or exited the workforce, some through retirement.


Graduating veterinarians vs. retiring veterinarians

This leads us to another question: are there enough Veterinary graduates entering the workforce to keep up with retirements? According to an article in Today’s Veterinary Business, approximately 2,000 people retire from the Veterinary profession every year. According to data from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, about 3,000 Veterinary students graduated in 2020. So the good news is that graduations are keeping up with retirements. The bad news is they’re not keeping up enough to help combat the shortage of veterinarians.

And these numbers could represent a best-case scenario. According to a report released by Mars Veterinary Health in March of this year, a shortage of nearly 15,000 veterinarians could exist by the year 2030. These numbers also illustrate how important it is to close a recruit, both now and in the future. That’s why you must do everything you can to position yourself for hiring success because you can see how exactly competitive it is out there and will continue to be in the future.

And yes, it could be even more difficult for smaller employers to recruit and hire the veterinarians they need to compete in the market.

(See our recruiting services for Veterinary employers, including an e-brochure that you can download.)


What veterinarians want in a new job

Considering all of the challenges, what does it take to hire veterinarians in this market.

What combination of factors will allow employers to successfully hire veterinarians when there is currently a shortage? Consider the different stages of the hiring process:

  • Identifying top veterinarian candidates.
  • Engaging those candidates and convincing them to explore your employment opportunity.
  • Keeping the candidates engaged all the way through the process, until you’re ready to make an offer to your top choice.

With all of this mind, what happens at the end of the hiring process during the offer stage is the most important. In this current job market, there are three critical factors that affect whether or not you’re able to recruit and successfully hire veterinarians. (And as an aside, there are obstacles for smaller employers just as much as they are for larger ones. In fact, they might represent even bigger obstacles for the former as opposed to the latter.)

#1—Starting salary, bonuses, and benefits.

Due to the Law of Supply and Demand, it costs more to recruit and hire veterinarians. That’s because, of course, there is a small supply of them and a huge demand. Consequently, it takes more to convince a veterinarian to leave their current employer. After all, their current employer is probably treating them rather well, considering the existing shortage of veterinarians.

During the past few years, we at The VET Recruiter have seen an increase in what it takes for employers to recruit and hire veterinarians. For example, employers are not making offers to veterinarian candidates below $100K that are being accepted. Offers with starting salaries of less than $100K are turned down. Keep in mind that these trends apply to new Veterinary graduates, as well. Not only that, but students are receiving large offers before they graduate, and some of them are receiving multiple offers prior to commencement.

Experienced veterinarians are receiving even more when it comes to starting salary. In fact, veterinarians with three or more years of experience are asking for and receiving salaries of $140K+ with production. And some ER veterinarians are asking for starting salaries of at least $200K before they will consider making a move. According to these veterinarians, they can make more doing relief work so, to take a full time position it has to be worth their while. We have seen salary ranges as high as $300K in general practice for an experienced Veterinary doctor.

Nearly every offer of employment includes a sign-on bonus. These bonuses are typically in the range of $10K to $20K, but they can exceed that amount if the candidate agrees to a multi-year commitment with the practice. We at The VET Recruiter were involved with a situation within the past year in which a practice offered a veterinarian candidate a sign-on bonus of $50K. To illustrate how competitive the job market is, that candidate ultimately turned down the offer. We have seen multi-year sign on and retention bonuses for veterinarians as high as $250K.

#2—Flexible work schedule

Today’s veterinarian candidates want more than just money, though. Flexibility is also important to these candidates, specifically schedule flexibility, as well as a healthy work-life balance.

At our firm, we’ve had many candidates negotiate flexible schedules that included working four days per week. Some have negotiated working only three days per week, while others successfully negotiated whether or not they would work any weekends. Those who were willing to work weekends were able to negotiate which weekend days they would work. Once again, this applies to new Veterinary graduates and students who have not yet graduated.

#3—A safe, pleasant, and less stressful work environment.

The Veterinary profession has become more stressful during the past several years. Clients have exhibited increasingly rude and hostile behavior, to the point where this has become a substantial problem for clinics. Pet owners have said some truly nasty things to veterinarians, and of course, they want to reduce their exposure to boorish behavior as much as possible.

Consequently, veterinarians want to work in a safe and pleasant work environment that is less stressful. We at The VET Recruiter had a client whose team was feeling stressed out, and they had some customers who were rude. The practice owner decided to close the hospital for a day, during which he paid all of his employees, and hosted a “wellness day.” He brought in a food truck and they all had food in the parking lot. That was a great way to reduce stress and increase loyalty and retention.

(See why you should use The VET Recruiter for your recruiting and hiring needs.)


How to hire veterinarians as a small employer

So how can you hire veterinarians as a small employer, considering all of the challenges and obstacles that exist in the employment marketplace? If you’re not doing the following things to recruit and hire veterinarians, then you should definitely considering doing them:

#1—Use an in-house referral program.

Basically, this means asking your current employees to refer people who they think would be a good fit for your organization. This makes sense for a number of reasons. First, if you value your current employees, then there’s a good chance that you would value the people they refer to you as potential employees. Second, referrals from trusted employees can serve to streamline and shorten the hiring process, so that you can hire a quality job candidate in a short amount of time.

#2—Maximize and leverage your presence on social media.

We’ve already discussed the importance of employer branding, and using social media is a great way to communicate your brand to professionals in the job market. While it’s true that you can advertise on the social media sites, there are plenty of free ways to get more exposure for your brand.

#3—Make your website the best that it can be.

You don’t have to be a large organization to have a stellar website. In this day and age, anybody can have a website that brands themselves in a positive way and impresses the job candidates who visit it. Keep in mind that when a person is even thinking about working for an organization, they check out that organization on the Internet. Which leads me to my next point . . .

#4—Keep tabs review sites for employers.

This includes Google, Glassdoor, and other sites. What people say on these websites absolutely matters. Just like job candidates will check out your website, they’ll also check out these sites. So monitor the sites, and if there is a review from a past employee that seems suspect, keep in mind that you can sign up for a free employer account on the site and respond to that review.

#5—Identify candidates’ pain points and sell back to them.

When you’ve identified a top candidate during the hiring process, identify their pain points. This means the reasons that they’re exploring your employment opportunity in the first place. When you discover those reasons, it’s important to bring those points up during the hiring process, especially while you’re continuing to “sell” to the candidate. Basically, you’re emphasizing the ways in which your organization can give them what they’re looking for. It’s another way for you to remind them both of why they’re looking for a new job and why they should work with you.

#6—Emphasize the advantages of working for a smaller organization.

You should know these by heart. When you work for a smaller organization, you can learn different aspects of the business, you have the opportunity to advance more quickly, and you can take enjoy a closer-knit, more family-like company culture.


Other tips for hiring veterinarians

There are also some things that you can do during the hiring process that will give an edge and level the playing field with bigger employers. That’s because these are things that the hiring managers at bigger organization don’t do and probably will not do.

As we’ve discussed, hiring the right people requires a certain amount of time and energy on the part of the employer. Specifically, this means doing things such as the following:

  • Preparing for the interview as much as the candidate
  • Being ready to answer this question and not be offended by it: “Why should I come to work here?”
  • Being prepared to provide references from other people who will attest to why the candidate should work for your organization, including both present and past employees
  • Writing a thank-you note and/or email to the candidate following the interview

If you’ve never done these things before and you’re internally scoffing at the prospect of doing them, remember that this is what it takes to recruit and hire veterinarians in this market. This is especially the case if you’re a smaller employer and don’t have the personnel and resources of larger organizations.

(See our process for recruiting veterinarians, which includes 20 detailed and comprehensive steps.)


Using a recruiter to help hire veterinarians

The final tip for recruiting and hiring veterinarians in a challenging market is to use the services of a Veterinary recruiter or search consultant. Many practice managers and owners are already overwhelmed with what they have to do on a daily basis, and as a result, they enlist the services of a recruiter to find the talent they want. As we’ve been discussing today, hiring consistently well and out-hiring the competition can require a tremendous time of time, energy, and effort.


Reasons to use a recruiter or search consultant

There are four main reasons why a hiring manager or practice owner uses a recruiter to help hire veterinarians:

#1—Time savings

Recruiters take care of almost everything, meaning that company officials can devote more time to their everyday tasks, increasing their productivity.

#2—Better candidates and higher-quality talent

The top 5% to 10% of candidates in the marketplace are typically passive candidates. (And it’s higher than that in the Veterinary profession.) This means they’re not actively looking for a new job. However, they would be open to considering a new opportunity . . . IF that opportunity was presented to them. Recruiter know where these passive candidates are and how to present such opportunities.

#3—A partner throughout the entire process

A quality recruiting firm will partner with a company throughout the entire recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and on-boarding process to ensure a successful hire is made.  A recruiter’s work is far from done once the candidate accepts the company’s offer of employment.  That makes the company’s job far easier to accomplish.

#4—Eyes and ears within the industry and in the marketplace

Recruiters work “in the trenches” day in and day out. They know what’s happening in the employment marketplace overall and the Veterinary profession in particular. They know what the top talent is doing, and they know what the top employers are doing. This is all information you can have access to when you partner with a recruiting agency.


The VET Recruiter can help you hire veterinarians

The VET Recruiter has been helping employers recruit and hire veterinarians for more than two decades. We have the connections, the experience, and the expertise to help your organization do the same.

We invite you to see examples of the veterinarian job candidates that we’ve placed with your clients. These are all examples of real positions that we have filled in the Veterinary profession.

You also contact The VET Recruiter for more information regarding our recruiting process and how The VET Recruiter can help your organization recruit and hire veterinarians as a small employer and beat out bigger organizations for top talent.

You can also call (918) 488-3901 or (800) 436-0490 or send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.

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