When great techs leave, this vet ponders the mysteries of the animal hospital business
Two weeks from today my favorite veterinary technician will begin her new life—in an oral surgeon’s office as a medical assistant. Her starting salary will be 25% higher than her current pay (after eight years on the job) and her workload and hours will be considerably reduced.
You might think I’d be feeling a little resentful or somehow betrayed, but I have so far limited my negative emotions to a dull despondency. It’s obvious to me that she needs to move on. And she’d be crazy not to take the offer and run screaming from a place that can’t or won’t pay her what she’s worth.
Too often this is the case in small animal practice. Technicians have historically been relegated to a remote second place status within the average hospital. But now, with the advent of accredited technician training programs and growth in the veterinary service sector, things have finally started to turn around for techs.
Modern, well-managed hospitals (read: fiscally responsible and bottom-line driven) have determined that the efficient hospital needs eight to nine employees per vet to maximize its service offerings. And more service offerings means more income and more profits.
But more service offerings also means your employees better be trained to take on the work vets used to do themselves (and which no self-respecting human doc has done for years). For example: IV catheter placement, blood draws, X-rays, dental cleanings, cytology, physical therapy, anesthesia induction and monitoring, bandaging, return phone calls and discharge instructions all fell under the vet’s job description. Now, not so much.
Once the value of excellent, abundant help became the established credo among the ambitious vet set, the rest of the industry came to look and see how it was done. Some hospitals figured it out quickly and adapted well.
Others, like mine, feared the loss of the personal touch and, anyhow, it would never have been my colleagues’ style to stop doing all the little things. In their day it was considered malpractice to let someone else administer IV injections. The idea of letting someone anesthetize their case? It’s beyond anathema to their personal veterinary culture. It would never fly in our hospital.
But this is how it happens that techs at our place can’t get paid what they deserve. All those new economic changes that everyone else takes for granted? Nope. They haven’t happened at our hospital. So our costs are higher and our revenues lower. In business they call that the big squeeze.
So Maria will have to find a new home with a new set of matching-scrub friends and maybe then she’ll be able to go to the gym or get home in time to put her son to bed at a decent hour.
I’m hating the prospect of losing her. But I can’t afford to keep techs like her as long as the “personal touch” extends to everything I do that she could be doing (and that she can do as well as I do—or better).
I don’t begrudge my colleagues the professional standards that reign supreme in the hospital they own, but I’m starting to feel a bit beleaguered on the staff thing. My own income is one thing…my favorite tech’s presence, I’m thinking, is more than I can handle today.