Fresh out of school, new veterinarians are overwhelmed with options on where to begin their careers. Head hunters, recruiters, HR professionals, and office managers are reaching out to new grads as soon as they post their resumes. If you thought you had an idea of what you wanted before you posted your availability, those ideas are quickly pushed to the back of your mind and replaced with sign-on bonuses, non-compete agreements, mentorship programs, and BIG PROMISES.
Your first year out of school will be more impactful than the next 10 years to follow, therefore, your first practice should give you the ability to learn what you want, when you’re ready.
In the end, no matter where you go, you may end up second-guessing yourself. Don’t do that.
The first place you end up being “the doctor” should have flexible opportunities to grow your skills set. Here’s a list of things to consider when shopping for a veterinary hospital or clinic to start your career:
Avoid practices that make you sign a non-compete agreement. Non-competes are handcuffs to make it impossible to leave. On the surface, it looks innocuous – “Sign this agreement to not work within 20 miles of our hospital.” In your mind, you’re thinking, “Of course. I’m going to be awesome and they don’t want me opening a practice up next door and stealing their clients.”
6 months later, after you’ve settled into an apartment a half-mile from work, you decide that the work culture just isn’t what you hoped for. There are a few clinics nearby, but since you signed a non-compete agreement your only options are all a 35-minute drive away to different cities. You could just make the commute for 6 months and then move if things are better, but what guarantees do you have that they will be BETTER? And if they are, would you move?
The non-compete agreement has one intention – to keep you at the hospital. And while the alternatives are probably not much better, the fact that a hospital would shackle you to them should worry you.
Binding Contracts (w/ sign-on bonus)
Most veterinary contracts are linked to sign-on bonuses that release money after certain time requirements are met. While the thought of $100,000 in your pocket for just signing on sounds awesome, the truth is that you won’t get 100k all at once, You’ll actually get it in small increments over 2 years.
The bigger question anyone should ask is WHY a veterinary hospital is offering $100k just to sign on with them. If it were a great work environment, wouldn’t everyone want to work there anyway? Why do they need to entice doctors with big sign-on bonuses?
Most hospitals offering big sign-on bonuses are also requiring doctors to sign non-competes within a 50-mile radius and a 2-year contract. They figure that after 2 years, you will have purchased a home, so quitting would be impossible. With a 50-mile radius non-compete, your closest alternative would be a 90-minute to 2-hour commute in rush hour traffic.
Pay (Base+Sign-on Bonus vs Base+Pro/Sal)
Everyone needs a paycheck, but what is acceptable for a new veterinarian? New veterinarians are now making 90k to 150k for just graduating. While that sounds like a lot of money to a kid who’s never earned more than $25k in any one year, it’s really not that much for a person saddled with $350k+ in student loan debt.
Salaries around $110k with a $60k sign-on bonus are common. Accompanying that will always be a non-compete with a 30 to 50-mile radius and a 1 to a 2-year contract. But after 2 years, that’s just $280k, or $140k annually. The truth is that a 2nd-year veterinarian with surgery and dental experience is worth $150k+. While 10k is not a deal breaker for most people, the lack of real mentorship and skills development should be.
Mentorship and skills development should always be your top priority, in your first year.
The Pro/Sal model isn’t for everyone, but if you want to maximize your income, this is what you should be looking for. Pro/Sal is a production-based bonus system that rewards doctors who put pet health above client financial concerns (in theory). So, if you always make the pet’s health a top priority and offer the best solution for the optimal long-term health of the pet, you will end up charging the client more money. More money of course benefits the hospital, as it will be able to afford to maintain its equipment, buy new equipment if necessary, pay its technicians more, hire new technicians and staff, and generally maintain its high standards of care.
And since you’ve put the pet and hospital first, you get rewarded. That’s the theory.
The reality is that some doctors may put their own income desires ahead of the pet’s health, suggesting unnecessary, costly procedures. This happens way more in human healthcare, though.
Structured Mentorship Program
A structured veterinary mentorship program typically includes the following components:
- Definition of roles and responsibilities for both the mentor and mentee.
- Regular meetings or check-ins between the mentor and mentee.
- A specific curriculum or set of goals to guide the mentorship experience.
- Opportunities for the mentee to observe the mentor in clinical settings and participate in cases.
- Feedback and evaluation to measure the mentee’s progress and identify areas for improvement.
- Access to resources, such as books, journal articles, and continuing education opportunities.
- Opportunities for the mentee to network with other veterinary professionals.
- Support for the mentee to pursue their career goals.
The goal of a structured veterinary mentorship program is to provide a supportive and educational experience for the mentee to develop their skills, knowledge, and confidence as a veterinarian.
It is important for new graduates to consider all of the specific details that come with a job offer, as these will provide essential information that may not be addressed in the hefty promotional material. Look beyond the catches and bonuses and focus on available resources, career growth opportunities, how you will fit into the working environment, and any other questions that you have.
It is also important to research each company before signing or committing to any long-term contracts or agreements. Gather as much information as possible from multiple sources, both online and offline. You should also read reviews from employees who have worked in various departments within each organization so you can get an accurate picture of what life at that particular office is really like.
Ultimately, it is up to you to make an informed decision about where to begin your veterinary career. Carefully weigh all of your options before committing and don’t forget to listen to your gut!