4 Critical Recruiting and Hiring Trends in the Veterinary Profession

Apr 26, 2023 at 3:24 pm

At a recent veterinary trade show, I spoke with dozens of employers and asked them what the biggest challenge they’re facing in their business right now is, and 100% of them said hiring and recruiting. As an animal health and veterinary recruiter for more than 25 years, I have also noticed these challenges.

There are a number of factors involved in creating such a high degree of difficulty when it comes to hiring and recruiting. I dive into four of them below.

Trend #1: A shortage of qualified veterinarians

According to September 2022 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarian jobs—this doesn’t include technicians or assistants—are projected to grow by 19% between 2021 and 2031.

BLS is projecting 4,400 job openings for veterinarians each year, on average, over the decade, with approximately 1,450 of those representing brand-new positions. The rest of those job openings will be to replace workers who transferred to different occupations or exited the workforce, some through retirement.

When all is said and done, we could be looking at a shortage of 15,000 to 18,000 veterinarians by the year 2031. And, there’s an outside chance that the number could be as high as 20,000.

Trend #2: Increasing starting salaries and compensation packages

Believe it or not, offers with starting salaries of less than $100K are being turned down—even by new graduates. New veterinarians are asking for—and receiving—starting salaries in the range of $100K to $150K right out of school. In fact, students are receiving offers this large before they even graduate, and many are receiving multiple offers prior to commencement. In our search firm, we have not seen a single offer for a full-time veterinarian be accepted for less than $100K in more than 18 months.

Veterinarians with three or more years of experience are asking for and receiving salaries of $140K+ with production. And some ER veterinarians are asking for starting salaries of at least $200K before they will consider making a move. They say they can make more doing relief work, so to take a full-time position, it has to be worth their while. We have seen salaries as high as $300K in general practice for an experienced doctor with medical director responsibilities.

Additionally, almost every offer includes a sign-on bonus of some kind. These bonuses are often in the range of $10K to $20K, but they can exceed that amount if the candidate agrees to a multi-year commitment with the practice. I was involved with a situation within the past year in which a practice offered a veterinarian candidate a sign-on bonus of $50K. To illustrate how competitive the job market is, that candidate ultimately turned down the offer. We have seen multi-year sign-on and retention bonuses as high as $250K.

Trend #3: Increased “job hopping”

There is no longer a stigma attached to “job hopping,” and that’s good because it’s happening with more frequency. Lattice, a technology company specializing in business applications, conducted a survey a year ago that revealed 52% of respondents who had been at their job for three months or less said they were actively trying to leave.

According to LinkedIn data published last year, Gen Z is changing jobs at a rate 134% higher than they were in 2019. Millennials are switching 24% more, and baby boomers 4% less. These trends have held strong over the past 12 months. While there have been some recent mass layoffs in the information technology industry—especially among the larger companies—we are not seeing layoffs in veterinary hospitals.

Veterinarians are changing jobs more often, and some are doing so to secure large signing bonuses, which some are using to pay off their student debt.

Trend #4: An increased emphasis on employee retention

The reason veterinarians are leaving the profession is part of another trend, which is retention. The veterinary profession can be stressful, and it has been for quite a while. According to research published by the Cornell Center for Veterinary Business and Entrepreneurship late last year, workplace burnout costs the veterinary industry $2 billion per year.

And, according to Merck Animal Health’s third Veterinarian Wellbeing Study, conducted in collaboration with the AVMA in the fall of 2021, 92% of respondents cited increased stress as one of their top mental health challenges. That’s more than nine out of ten, which is staggering to consider.

The most important thing to remember about employee retention is that onboarding your new employees starts the moment they accept your employment offer. It does not start on their first official day of work, because there is no guarantee that they will actually show up for that day of work. “Ghosting” is prevalent in both the job market overall and also within the veterinary profession.

The best way to combat ghosting and ensure your candidates have the best experience possible is through proactive engagement. A big part of that is communicating consistently, setting clear expectations, and answering any questions the candidates might have. Remember: After a candidate accepts an employment offer, they are looking for reasons to believe they’ve made the correct decision. It’s up to your organization to give them those reasons!

There are many recruiting and hiring challenges that exist in the job market, with retention not being the least of them. Combatting these challenges and overcoming the obstacles they present require a commitment and an investment of time, energy, and effort from those seeking to acquire top talent.

If you have that commitment and investment in place, you are positioning yourself for more recruiting and hiring success, both in the short term and for the rest of the decade and beyond.

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Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS, is a workplace/workforce expert and an award-winning executive recruiter serving the animal health industry and veterinary profession for 22 years. Stacy was a National Top Ten Account Executive and Pacesetter for one of the world’s largest executive search firms and the #1 recruiter in the Southwest region of the United States before starting her own firm in 2004. Stacy is the founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, a globally respected search firm. Known as a trailblazer, Stacy founded the first search firm to exclusively serve the animal health, pet, and veterinary industries. Prior to focusing on the animal health, pet, and veterinary industries, Stacy specialized in placing executives for Fortune 500 companies. She also recruited for human hospitals and placed professionals in the broadcast television industry, including television producers for a major cable TV network. She placed CPA’s with a Big 5 Public Accounting Firm and recruited for a natural gas company, a computer software company, a leading provider of fiber based communications services, and in the fashion industry for one of the biggest names in fashion. She is a certified personnel consultant (CPC) and a member of an elite group of search professionals who have passed this challenging exam to show her commitment to the advancement of professional and ethical standards and to the quality of the work performed in the search profession. Stacy served as a volunteer board member for the National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS) for four years and is a preferred member of Top Echelon. She has won numerous awards in the search and recruiting industry over the years and is in the top 1% of executive recruiters worldwide. She was a 2014 and 2017 Finalist for Pet Industry Woman of the Year recognized by Women in the Pet Industry. In addition to being a certified personnel consultant, Stacy is a certified employee retention specialist (CERS) and a member of an elite group of about 30 search professionals who have passed this challenging exam. Finding and retaining employees is the #1 concern of employers in today’s marketplace and this certification helps Stacy’s clients become better at retaining their employees in order for them to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Stacy is a member of Vet Partners and has been an invited speaker to a number of veterinary conferences. She writes articles about the animal health and veterinary job market and career related topics.

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