When you’ve been in back-to-back appointments all day, every day, for weeks on end, the idea of adding a new veterinary associate could feel like the solution to your heavy workload. But can your current practice sustain a new associate? According to Terence O’Neil, CPA, CVA, a partner at Katz, Sapper & Miller, there are clear guidelines that can tell you when to move ahead and how to do so effectively.
Have a plan. Start with clear goals about how and when you would expand your practice, so you can hire an associate before it becomes a crisis. “You have to plan for the future,” O’Neil says. If you address needs only when they become acute, you and your current staff will be under more stress than is necessary.
Check your numbers. Look at your appointment books. How long does it take to fit someone in? If it’s two to three weeks, you could probably benefit from having an associate. O’Neil also references the Veterinary Study Groups database, which shows that 4,600 invoices per year is close to capacity for a full-time equivalent doctor. If either of these metrics applies to you and your practice, it might be time to hire an associate.
Consider your space. Do you have the exam rooms to support another veterinary associate? If you’re a one-veterinarian practice and have only two exam rooms, a new associate may not be feasible.
Evaluate non-doctor staff. Increasing the number of veterinarians is going to increase other things as well, such as the number of appointments and possibly the hours you are open. Consider your office staff and whether you want to bring on more people.
Think about expanding hours. Before you write a job description, consider how you want to work with a new associate. This might be an opportunity to expand your hours later or earlier in the day, or on weekends. If so, you need to know before you create a job posting.
Decide what type of veterinarian you want. New graduates come highly technically trained, O’Neil says, but “they’re green. They don’t know how to be veterinarians, so you have to be patient.” It’s also true, though, that an experienced veterinarian might come with bad habits. “Put together a mentoring plan of how you’re going to help this new associate become a better veterinarian,” O’Neil suggests. It will help them and your practice.
Use a consultant. If you’re struggling with whether your practice can afford to expand, get an outside viewpoint. You could go to a business coach, preferably someone in the veterinary field, or to your accountant or another business advisor, O’Neil says.
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