How to Keep Associate Veterinarians Motivated and Happy

Associate veterinarians are an important asset to your practice, and keeping them happy should be a top priority. With available positions outnumbering the associate population in many areas, veterinarians who feel underappreciated, overworked, or unsupported will likely move on. When you make an effort to address the challenges that associate veterinarians face, you show them that they are valuable team members and give them reasons to stay for the long haul. Here are the top ways to help keep your associates happy and fulfilled.

Chip Away at Student Loan Debt

Veterinary students graduate with a debt-to-income ratio of nearly 2-to-1: the highest among health professionals, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Of young veterinarians, 67% surveyed for the 2018 Merck Wellness Study said student loan debt was critically important to their well-being, so you can be sure it's an issue for your associates.

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A competitive associate veterinarian salary obviously helps reduce loan stress, but other benefits that help ease the burden can also demonstrate your investment in your team members. Consider:

  • Hiring a loan expert: This person can help your associate veterinarians develop a faster debt-repayment plan.
  • Offering bonuses for the entire team when the practice exceeds monthly goals: Determine the bonus amount for the entire practice based on production, and allot a particular percentage of that bonus to each team member. Percentages can vary based on position (i.e., assistants would receive a smaller percentage than associate veterinarians).

Promote Work-Life Balance

Don't make the mistake of thinking salary is the most important factor in keeping good employees. Benefits that improve work-life balance often outweigh the almighty dollar for today's workforce. The top priorities for your veterinary team members include:

  • Flexible scheduling: Team members would often prefer to work four 10-hour days rather than the traditional five-day, 9-to-5 schedule. Rotate weekend coverage and give each veterinarian scheduled weekends off for family time and recreation. If you manage a larger hospital, you can allow veterinarians to self-schedule, as long as all shifts are covered.
  • Paid time off: Ensure that you offer as many PTO days as other local practices, and that you allow generous family and medical leave.
  • Realistic work load: Don't expect associate veterinarians scheduled to work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to routinely stay after hours to catch up on paperwork. Build in enough time and assistance for task completion during the work day.
  • Continuing education (CE) allowance: Provide a generous CE allowance so your associate veterinarians can travel to larger conferences as well as local CE events. They will be motivated and energized, and will pass along their enthusiasm to the rest of the team.

Encourage Leadership and Ask for Input

Although veterinarians are often placed in leadership roles, many associates are not prepared for such a responsibility. Provide each associate veterinarian with a mentor who can help identify areas where they can step up, take charge, and gain the team's respect. Also, schedule practice management experts to provide leadership training several times per year to help your associates realize their potential.

If you want associates to become leaders, you must show that you value their input and feedback. Discuss new or changing policies at monthly staff meetings and let them know their opinions are important to you. Team members are more likely to buy into, and help enforce, policies they have helped develop.

Provide Opportunities for Advancement

Most highly educated people are also highly motivated and want to advance in their profession. Associate veterinarians often see no advancement opportunities, particularly in small practices where partnership is not an option. Instead, encourage them to develop a niche, such as exotic animal medicine or low-stress handling, or to write social media postings that will give them special recognition in the practice and the community. Providing your associates with opportunities that will encourage growth and development is key to keeping them motivated and happy.

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Sarah Rumple
Owner, Chief Creative Officer of Rumpus Writing and Editing

Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer and editor. Since 2011, her work has focused on pet health/behavior and veterinary practice management topics. Her clients include individual veterinary practice owners, national corporations, nonprofit associations, media companies, consultants, and others. Learn more at

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