Every once in a while (OK so more often, recently) I like to write about veterinarians in my specific employment circumstance. That is, I get a hankering for telling stories out of school on the realities of working for a practice I don’t own. But it’s not always all about me. To that end, here’s a post with larger patient care concerns in mind. Read on…

Increasingly, vets are graduating from school with a clear understanding that they’ll never own a practice…primarily because they reason, who would want to?

Veterinarians of years past rarely questioned this too much. They assumed that if they were going to practice veterinary medicine they were damn well going to make sure they could do so on their terms with the maximum financial benefits their education could confer. I other words, veterinary graduates who planned to practice almost uniformly planned on owning their own place, too.

Not so nowadays. Ask your average senior vet year student about practice ownership and the answer is often equivocal, at best. (We’ve talked before about the reason behind this so I won’t get too technical today about what’s behind this trend but you can go read about it here if you’re interested.)

But how does having an associate (employee) vet treat your pets for the entirety of his or her career affect the way veterinary medicine is practiced? After all, employee-driven veterinary medicine represents a potentially dramatic shift in the way your pets receive their veterinary services.

…or does it?

Here are some emerging truisms that apply to associate vs. pracice-owning vet-dom for your consideration:

1-Associate vets work fewer hours and enjoy more flexible schedules than their hospital-owning colleagues. Our overall work life stress tends to be less than that of our employers.

2-Armed with a better sense of ourselves as permament “free agents,” we tend to hop from hospital to hospital more often than associates did in the past…when we were more likely to be making employment decisions and selecting workplaces based on buy-in potential or future ownership.

3-Associate vets experience greater frustration at being unable to control certain aspects of our work life, particularly when it comes to quality of patient care and staff management (generally considered the two most critical elements to our job satisfaction levels, discounting the issues of free time and compensation). Practice owners enjoy more of the simple satisfactions that come with greater control over one’s immediate environment.

4-Employee vets are, on average, less financially stable than their practice-owning counterparts. We know what the trade-off is and we accept it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t experience the stress that accompanies the long-term financial aspects of associate-ship.

5-Associates have the luxury of directing our continuing education efforts more completely towards medicine relative to practice owners. We also tend to have more time to digest journals and generally focus our professional selves on the science and practice of veterinary medicine instead of the time-consuming managerial side of practice life.

6-Practice owners are in a better position to take a more holistic view of veterinary medicine. It’s not just the medicine, the clients and the animals that drive them. It’s the bigger issues of economic forces and government policy that also stimulate curiosity and build interest in their profession as a whole.

Having made these black and white distinctions in a decidedly gray world, it bears mentioning that vets do run the gamut. For example, there’s no doubt this employee vet-author is drawn to the big-picture dynamics of the profession. As for free-time to read my journals…yeah, that happens when the stack builds up and I have to run through them all with a highlighter on one Sunday afternoon a month. And you never know…there’s no law that says a career associate might no change her mind someday.

In general, however, these six points do draw a broadly recognizable line between these two kinds of vets. But the question is not how such differences affect the individuals. The key is to attempt to project them onto the wider screen of the entire profession…and to its holy grail: patient care in general.

Your thoughts?