Growth Opportunities for Vet Techs: Strategies to Avoid Employee Attrition

A career in veterinary medicine can be incredibly rewarding, and helping owners get more time with their pets feels great. However, attrition and turnover data suggest that more is needed to keep vet techs engaged and satisfied with their jobs. According to the Finding the Time publication by IDEXX, 77% of practices surveyed lost at least one staff member in the last year.

Giving veterinary techs opportunities for growth helps them to stay engaged and happy while hopefully combatting the loss of skilled employees. Read on for a few ideas you can use to help vet techs move forward to achieve their full potential.

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Create Training Plans With SMART Goals

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to vet techs, and each person brings different knowledge, skills, and goals to the role. That means it's important to create an individualized training plan to link their personal growth targets with practice needs.

In general, training goals should be SMART:

  • Specific: Clearly define the skills being learned. "Complete monitoring of 10 anesthetic procedures while assessed by a senior tech" is a better goal than "get better at anesthesia monitoring."
  • Measurable: Make sure the goal is something that can be assessed in a measurable way.
  • Achievable: Goals should always be within the capability of your employee. If you set the bar too high, it may kill confidence and motivation. Keep goals within reach.
  • Relevant: Training and growth goals need to be useful and practical. Training a tech, for example, in ultrasonography will be frustrating if they cannot—or very rarely—apply it.
  • Time-bound: Setting a time frame helps both you and your team members to stay focused, avoid procrastination, and achieve goals faster.

Make sure your team members feel the support of the practice and management team when pursuing these goals.

Assign Buddies And Mentors

Understanding the opportunities that are available to vet techs can be overwhelming at times, as there are so many things to learn and skills to develop. Having the advice of someone who has already been through it can help to get over the bumps in the road.

For junior team members, partnering with an experienced team member from day one will give them someone to lean on when challenges arise. For your senior techs, you might assign a doctor or member of the management team who can challenge them to take on new roles in the practice.

Managers can help by creating these pairings, checking in regularly, and seeking opportunities to support the relationship and stated goals.

Increase Opportunities for Senior Techs

Sometimes, vet techs at the senior level reach a point in their careers where they feel they can't go any further in the practice and begin looking for opportunities to do so elsewhere. Losing such experienced team members can be a heavy blow that ripples far, including to your junior team members. Providing ways for senior techs to grow not only helps to retain them but may also take some work off your plate. The same IDEXX publication found 65% of practices surveyed indicate tech-led appointments had a positive impact on practice productivity.

  • Tech appointments: Offer your senior technicians their own appointments with clients to provide services that don't require a doctor, including follow-up vaccine appointments and nutrition counseling.
  • Training others: Training junior peers is always part of a vet tech's job, but someone needs to own and manage the process. Give that responsibility to a senior tech and let them use their own experience to tailor the process to your team.
  • Team management: Managing people is time-consuming, from scheduling and dealing with call-outs to hiring and firing. Delegating some or all of these tasks offers growth opportunities while freeing up your time to focus on other areas of the business.
  • Inventory management: Managing inventory is a great introduction to how the veterinary business works. This gives techs an opportunity to learn about cash flow, purchasing, charge capture, and other management skills.
  • Practice management: Many practice managers started out as technicians, and that experience can translate well. There are limited opportunities, but promoting someone to your spot offers you the opportunity to keep growing and take on more challenging areas.

Link Rewards to Progress

As team members develop, it's important to recognize their progress—not only for their benefit but so their peers see the value of their own commitment. Rewards should reflect the progress that was made and could be related to the following:

  • Job title: Although this is a simple change, promoting someone from vet tech to senior tech and allowing them to use it on a badge or email signature is a public recognition of their hard work.
  • Additional responsibility: Enabling your team to make use of their new skills is essential. For example, if they've just been trained in anesthetic monitoring, make sure you schedule surgery days for them.
  • Pay: Wages are not the only thing that makes team members happy, but an increase will certainly help. Tiering raises to skill acquisition aligns practice goals with those of the employee.
  • Formal qualification: Supporting a vet tech through a licensing qualification is a big investment for both the practice and the candidate, but with state boards beginning to look at additional opportunities for licensed techs, it might be an investment with significant return.

Moving Forward to Success

No matter the profession, it's important to feel a sense of progress and improvement to stay engaged and happy in a job. Without it, vet techs may simply look for practices where they can achieve it. That's why it's essential to make continual efforts to provide opportunities for growth. Indeed, your practice's own growth—and perhaps even survival—may depend on it.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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