Practice inefficiencies compound veterinary stress

As children, many veterinarians dreamed of growing up and becoming a veterinarian. However, a shocking number of veterinarians say they are seriously considering giving up their dream job for non-retirement reasons.

It was a much discussed topic during the AVMA Veterinary Business and Economic Forum, practically held October 14-16, where Frederic Ouedraogo, PhD from AVMA, described the trend during his presentation on the US veterinary services market.

“You grew up wanting to help animals and went to veterinary school – sometimes at great sacrifice – and then took up the veterinary career. And here it can get a little complicated, ”said Dr. Ouedraogo, deputy director of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division.

Citing the AVMA survey of veterinary and practice owners 2021, Dr. Ouedraogo that an estimated 44% of private veterinarians reported that they were thinking about leaving veterinary medicine before retirement. The percentage of dissatisfied veterinarians varies by type of practice, added Dr. Ouedraogo added, with equine vets at the top (49%) and mixed vets at the bottom (32%).

Veterinary dissatisfaction varies by generation. For example, 43% of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) say they are considering leaving the veterinary profession, compared with 47% of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and 43% of millennials (born between 1981 and 1995). .

“The most fascinating fact,” noted Dr. Ouedraogo, “is that over 40% of practitioners who have graduated in the past 10 years are thinking of leaving the profession. They cited mental health (33%) and work-life balance (27%) as the main reasons.

Dr. Ouedraogo identified three other trends that require a “reinterpretation” of the veterinary profession in order to meet the economic and social expectations of its members.

First, millennials have overtaken Generation X as the largest generation of the veterinary workforce. Women make up 78% of US veterinarians. Of the women, 72% are under 52 years of age, which means that they may still have educational responsibilities.

“This corresponds to 46% of the entire workforce,” said Dr. Ouedraogo. “Obviously, when you look at these statistics, something has to be done to meet the needs of these specific groups.”

In a second trend, wellbeing remains a serious issue for veterinarians. According to Dr. Ouedraogo, some studies in veterinarians have found a high prevalence of burnout, depression and secondary traumatic stress disorders.

“In a study we did here at AVMA,” he said, “we found that associate veterinarians were twice as likely to develop feelings of decreased job satisfaction as compared to practice owners. We also found that associate veterinarians are more likely to suffer from higher levels of burnout compared to practice owners.

“When we factor in the declining ownership rate, it could be argued that this situation could affect the quality of professional life at the industry level. In fact, participation in the practice has decreased from 45% in 2013 to 36% in 2020. “

In a third trend, practical performance did not follow the expected expansion curve. As Dr. Ouedraogo stated that hiring an additional veterinarian in 2007, when the typical practice employed 1.7 full-time veterinarians, increased the practice’s revenues by $ 410,000. Fast forward to 2020 when the typical practice employed 2.4 FTEs veterinarians. The hiring of an additional veterinarian resulted in an additional contribution of $ 530,000 to sales.

Looking at the revenue contribution from hiring one additional qualified veterinary technician per veterinarian in a practice, the contribution was $ 120,000 in 2007 and $ 122,000 in 2020.

“Obviously, the sales contribution of the qualified veterinary technicians has hardly changed. The problem is that the number of veterinarians per practice has increased, but the number of certified veterinarians per veterinarian has not increased enough to allow productivity to increase, ”said Dr. Ouedraogo.

This addresses the underlying problem of chronic inefficiency in the provision of veterinary services. Efficiency, explained Dr. Ouedraogo, refers to how well resources are used and should not be confused with productivity, which measures output per unit of input.

He cited a 2021 efficiency study on exclusive pet practices. Very inefficient practices were rated 0 while highly efficient practices were rated 1. Only 1% received a rating of 1; 34% scored 0.3 or less; 59% had an efficiency rating of 0.4 or less; and 73% received a score of 0.5 or less. Serious inefficiency problems were found in at least 60% of the practices surveyed between 2017 and 2021.

Dr. Ouedraogo described the differences between an efficient practice and an average practice: an efficient practice has an average of 4,500 active clients per year, compared to 4,300 in an average practice. An efficient practice can process eight patients an hour, an average practice five. An efficient practice can treat 4.7 patients per vet per hour, an average practice 2.2. In terms of output value and productivity, efficient practice pays an average of $ 1.4 million per year; an average practice makes $ 1.2 million. An efficient practice could reach $ 1 million per vet per year and over $ 400,000 per employee per year, while an average practice only makes $ 580,000 per vet and $ 130,000 per employee per year.

“We can see that there is a high cost associated with inefficiency,” said Dr. Ouedraogo. “If we don’t address the issue of wellbeing in our profession, if we don’t address the issue of low efficiency and low productivity in our practices, we could see more veterinarians leaving the animal health sector and we could witness an increase in production and service costs. We can face the challenges of making veterinary health care affordable and accessible – the top reasons pet owners in the US don’t go to veterinary clinics, according to our own survey of pet owners. “

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