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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bill Wagner

Delegate, delegate, delegate

The veterinary healthcare industry is navigating a crisis coming to a head: Even before COVID-19 added new challenges, many veterinary hospitals were struggling to keep up with growing caseload. Most practices approached the problem with the same mindset that the industry has had for decades whenever caseload exceeded capacity: Add more vets. However, with the hiring environment for associate veterinarians growing more competitive as hospitals around the country all try to band-aid their caseload capacity issue in the same way, we should take a moment to step back and question whether we're even thinking about the problem the right way. Do all of these hospitals truly have a shortage of vets? We can answer that question with yet another question: Are most hospitals giving their veterinarians the tools and support to maximize their productivity?

Clearly the right answer to the veterinarian staffing crisis isn't to ask an already over-worked veterinary workforce to work harder. We need to approach the problem by working smarter. While human healthcare often isn't a great example to look towards for many operational areas, delegation is one thing that they largely get right. The idea of going to your physician's office and having your MD be the same person who takes your vitals, your medical history, and performs the phlebotomy for your annual blood work would be considered insane, yet this is the reality of how healthcare is delivered in many veterinary hospitals. Your MD most certainly wouldn't personally give you a manicure/pedicure at the end of your visit!

The correct answer to "what tasks should a veterinarian be performing at my practice" is: only the tasks that cannot be legally and safely delegated to a properly trained non-veterinarian staff member. Delegating all tasks that do not directly constitute the practice of veterinary medicine requiring a veterinary license as defined by your state's practice act is the key to dramatically improving your team's per-DVM productivity. A 2010 study in JAVMA looked at whether a relationship existed between veterinary practice revenue and characteristics of veterinary technicians, and the results showed that the typical veterinarian’s gross income increased by $93,311 for each additional credentialed veterinarian technician per veterinarian. Hiring vets is expensive and challenging. Why would you put all of that work into hiring a DVM but not put the work into optimizing their performance? You hired your associate veterinarians to do the mission-critical work that only vets are allowed to do. Empower your technicians to be the skilled nurses that they're capable of being to handle the rest.

As a practice owner or manager, make sure not to assume that improving delegation is a one step process involving hiring more hands. Delegation is an act of trust, and veterinarians will only delegate effectively if they trust that the delegated tasks will be consistently performed properly when they're handed off. That means having systematized training for staff members to make sure your associates can feel safe passing off tasks that they're accustomed to doing themselves. This is one of the many ways that you can systematize care within your hospital in order to ensure that care is consistently delivered to the highest level for every patient, every time.

Optimized vets are happier vets, too. Working smarter means not having to work harder. Setting veterinarians up for success by fully leveraging them with support staff means that they can generate more revenue per hour and need to spend less time in the office, and get paid better for the time when they're there. Support staff are happier when their skills are being properly utilized and they feel like they're playing the important role in healthcare delivery that they're capable of. Clients are happier when they perceive that their pet's healthcare is being delivered in a professional and modern manner that more closely resembles their expectations built by their experiences with their own healthcare.

You can't truly assess that you have a "vet shortage" at your practice until you you've ensured that the vets that you have are 100% leveraged by your support staff.


Is the thought of optimizing your practice's operations giving you a headache? Contact me at to discuss how a partnership with AVP can help your practice achieve its maximum potential.

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