Veterinary Job Market Update: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities

Female veterinarian uses a stethoscope to examine a cat
Jun 3, 2024 at 1:25 pm

The veterinary profession continues to experience dynamic changes, presenting both challenges and opportunities for veterinarians and employers. From the increasing shift of relief vets to full-time positions to rising compensation for associate veterinarians and the growing prevalence of substantial sign-on bonuses and retention bonuses, the veterinary job market is evolving rapidly. Despite the high demand for veterinary professionals and the enticing offers available, the industry continues to grapple with a significant labor shortage and rising turnover rates. Let’s explore these key trends, and look at how practices can adapt and thrive in this competitive environment.

Some relief vets are settling down

A trend in the veterinary job market is the shift of relief veterinarians toward full-time positions at a single clinic. Relief work allows for flexibility and variety; however, in recent months, some veterinarians have opted for the stability and benefits of full-time positions. This shift is likely driven by competitive compensation packages and the desire for a more consistent work environment. Sign-on bonuses have played a role in this.

Compensation for associate veterinarians remains high

The compensation for associate veterinarians remains at an all-time high. Offers for new graduates have risen significantly over the past several years, with salaries ranging from $110,000 to $150,000 per year. This upward trend reflects the growing demand for veterinarians and the competition among practices to attract top talent. According to the AVMA, the national unemployment rate in the veterinary profession remains impressively low at 0.5%. This competitive landscape pushes salaries higher, with even the lowest offers rarely falling below $100,000.

Sign-on bonuses are here to stay

Sign-on bonuses have become a standard practice in the veterinary job market, with some bonuses reaching up to $250,000 for multi-year commitments. These bonuses serve not only to attract new hires but also to retain them, reflecting the high value placed on experienced veterinarians in an increasingly competitive market. Most job offers now include some form of sign-on bonus, making them a crucial factor for candidates considering multiple opportunities.

Veterinary turnover rates remain high

Turnover rates in the veterinary profession continue to rise, particularly among younger associates. Veterinarians are changing jobs more frequently, often every 18 months to two years. This trend is driven by the pursuit of higher salaries and diverse experiences. However, long-term employees are also broadening their horizons. Some who have worked for practices 10 years or longer are surprised to learn that new hires are offered significantly higher compensation, leading to dissatisfaction and increased turnover. Practices must adapt by regularly reviewing and adjusting compensation packages to retain staff.

The veterinary labor shortage continues

The labor shortage in the veterinary industry remains a pressing issue. Despite the increasing number of veterinary schools and larger class sizes, the demand for veterinarians continues to outpace supply. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 20% growth in veterinary job openings between 2022 and 2032, with an estimated 20,000 open positions by the end of this period. The continued low unemployment rate in the veterinary profession indicates a significant shortage of qualified professionals.

Non-compete clauses have been banned

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently voted to ban non-compete clauses for for-profit employers in the United States, following a close 3 to 2 vote. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a lawsuit against the FTC, claiming the agency exceeded its administrative authority. The final rule differs from the proposed rule, which aimed to apply to all non-compete agreements. The new rule exempts senior executives, defined as those earning over $151,164 annually in policy-making positions, from the ban. However, future non-competes for senior executives will still be prohibited, ensuring that non-competes will eventually phase out as executives retire or change jobs.

The April 23 ruling will become effective 120 days after its publication in the Federal Register, although legal challenges may delay its implementation. Non-compete clauses have been prevalent in the veterinary profession, often used to retain employees in a field with a shortage of qualified candidates. Some veterinary employers have even supported new hires in legal battles over non-compete violations, highlighting the lengths they will go to secure talent.

The potential ban on non-compete clauses underscores the need for more effective employee retention strategies. Rather than relying on non-competes or counteroffers, employers should focus on creating attractive and supportive work environments to retain top talent.

How can veterinary practices stand out?

To attract and retain top talent, veterinary practices are adopting innovative strategies. These include:

  • Personalized compensation packages — Practices that stand out take the time to understand what prospective employees value most and tailor offers to meet these needs.
  • Flexible interview processes — Employers are increasingly accommodating candidates’ schedules and enhancing the interview experience with personalized touches, such as welcome gifts.
  • Enhanced work environment — Investing in modern equipment, fostering a positive workplace culture, and providing opportunities for professional development can help demonstrate a practice’s commitment to their team’s well-being.
  • Competitive benefits — Successful practices offer comprehensive benefits packages that go beyond salary, including health insurance, continuing education stipends, and work-life balance initiatives.

These efforts are essential for practices to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market. By focusing on what candidates value most and creating a welcoming and supportive environment, practices can attract and retain the best talent available.

The veterinary job market continues to evolve, with significant trends shaping hiring and compensation practices. Practices that respond to these changes by offering competitive and personalized compensation packages, enhancing their work environment, and standing out in their recruitment efforts will be best positioned to thrive in this dynamic landscape.

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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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