How the 'Well-Managed Practice' refused me my pay raise
This is a story of how two consecutive cover stories in Veterinary Economics conspired to boost my ego… and later burst my bubble.
In case you’ve never heard of this magazine, rest assured your vet has. It’s his or her version of a personal finance magazine. Though it’s geared to helping vets manage their practices, it sagely recognizes that not all vets own them. Consequently, it produces articles and features for both camps.
The last two months’ cover stories included one on helping the fairer sex succeed in the profession, “Are Women Tough Enough?” (June) and, most recently, another on non-owner-vet compensation, “Get a Clue About Associate Compensation” (July).
Both were styled as the kind of “how-to” articles Vet Economics excels at, giving examples and exact figures on how women sometimes sabotage their earnings in the first piece (and how to hedge against this) and helping guide owners and associates on arriving at fair compensation strategies in the second.
I read them both. Problem is, so did my boss. Here’s the story:
In the wake of the first article on building women up, I realized that some of my financial struggles were due in part to my static income. I hadn’t asked for a raise in 10 years!!
Now, this isn’t the stupid vet trick it might appear. I get paid a slice of what I earn for the practice. Example: If I spay your cat for $200 I get paid a percentage of that. And I’ve been slowly building up my caseload over the years so that my income has been growing steadily—that is, until I reached maximum capacity about two years ago. Since then I’ve made no more.
I get no paid vacation time. I get no contributions to a 401K plan. I pay for my own licenses, dues and subscriptions to veterinary journals. I pay my own health insurance in its entirety. In short—I get no benefits, save a standard discount on my own pets’ care. In return, I get a slightly higher percentage than what other associates earn.
And that’s worked well for me—until two years ago when my ability to earn more has been hampered by my ability to see more clients and attend to a larger caseload by the following issues:
1-A dearth of trained techs: If I have fewer trained techs that means I do more of everything, from placing catheters to administering medications to taking X-rays and reading fecals.
2-Lack of space: I have a small amount of room to work in. I can only schedule a certain number of surgeries on a restricted number of days because of limited cage space and only one surgery suite for three doctors. Moreover, only two vets can see patients or do surgery on any given day. The other days I can’t see any new cases (“luckily”, there’s still plenty to do on these “off” days).
3-Limited price increases: Because one of the vets I work for is extra price sensitive on our clients’ behalf, our prices are significantly lower than the area’s norm for higher-end practices.
Don’t get me wrong—I love my job and my workplace….mostly. But I’d like to make myself some more money. No harm in that, right?
That’s why I decided to take the recommendation in article #1, get a little more assertive in my womanliness, buckle down and ask for a raise.
After all, I have thirteen years of solid experience (ten in this hospital), I’ve (almost single-handedly) raised the quantity and quality of the clientele here (partly due to my writing for The Miami Herald), I’ve helped cut costs with my neurotic resource management, I’ve hired and trained techs, I fill in when my bosses can’t make it in, and I take care of my own patients on Sundays and holidays (all this among other atypical associate fare).
You’d think a small percentage-point increase wouldn’t be denied, right?
Wrong. In comes article #2 with its proclamations and percentages for what associates should earn in a “well managed practice” and that’s where things devolved. No raise.
Apparently, anything beyond the percentage I already earn and you can’t really call yourself a “well managed” anything.
And here’s where I get catty with the business management gurus in the veterinary profession with their promiscuous pronouncements on “well managed” practices. This concept should be employed to help practices benchmark for success and build better places to work. Unfortunately, the term gets bandied about with such wild abandon that “well managed” often translates to “applies to the average,” or worse, “imperative.”
Article #2 says nothing about how an associate’s value to the practice deserves different considerations. It lays no groundwork for exceptions. Instead, it sets guidelines in strict percentage point brackets by practice type—as in, “well managed companion animal hospitals should compensate their associates at 19-21%.”
Presumably, 21% is for the stellar associate and 19% is for the bottom of the barrel. Well, what if there’s a special category for associates who are, “crucial”—as in, this hospital wouldn’t be profitable without her…what if…?
No, it’s not my intention to bad-mouth my bosses and build up my self-esteem with Internet postings on my incredible worth as a doctor. But these are the issues that plague the profession and you deserve a look-see…I think.
Even if I don’t get a raise (and it looks like I won’t ever after article #2 was pointed out as Exhibit A) what then? No, I won’t be jumping ship anytime soon. No, not yet. I understand their side of the coin better than you think, prudent benchmarking and financial stress and all that. But sometimes I think rules were made to be broken. And this is one of those times. After all, a happier, healthier associate vet means a better workplace for everyone. IMHO, of course.