Dr. Bill Wagner
Veterinary Technicians: The Difference Maker at High-Performing Practices
Credentialed veterinary technicians are highly skilled, nursing-level healthcare workers who can perform many of the core tasks of healthcare delivery in veterinary hospitals if they are empowered to utilize the full extent of their training and operate at the maximum legal definition of their licensure. There is a consistent theme among high-performing veterinary practices (both in terms of quality of medical care and financial benchmarks): They are well staffed with skilled technicians, and they effectively delegate any tasks that do not legally need to be performed by a veterinarian to their technicians and the rest of their support staff team.
Delegation Leads to Increased Veterinarian Productivity
In order to turn a group of workers into a well-oiled team there needs to be specialization of roles (everyone should have a clear job to do), team members must be trained and skilled at their roles (everyone should know how to do their job), and tasks that enter the top of the funnel at the level of the leaders/deciders need to be seamlessly delegated to the appropriate members of the team (leaders should be able to trust that they can hand off tasks and those tasks will be completed). When it comes to veterinary healthcare teams, many teams struggle with the step of delegating work from the level of their veterinarians to their support staff. In many cases that is due to concern by the veterinarian that they do not have enough staff members to delegate to, that the staff members they have access to are not properly trained to complete the tasks properly, or both. Adding additional credentialed veterinary technicians to the team effectively addresses those sticking points, especially when they are further supported by well-trained veterinary assistants who can support the veterinarian and technicians in delivering care.
The economic benefits of properly leveraging veterinarians with veterinary technicians are clear. A 2008 AVMA economic study showed that practices that increased their CVT to DVM ratio by an additional technician increased their per-veterinarian revenue by $93,311. That number would likely be much higher if that study was repeated today after accounting for inflation, the average price of veterinary services outpacing inflation since that time, and the growing demand for veterinary healthcare services that has flooded many practices with caseload that they are not able to keep up with. That same source noted that the same boost was not noted with adding non-credentialed support staff, suggesting that veterinarians are more willing and able to delegate tasks to credentialed technicians that free up their time to focus on completing more revenue-producing tasks. Additionally, the incremental revenue generated by improving the productivity of existing veterinarian staff is significantly higher quality revenue. Even after accounting for industry average COGS, above-average technician compensation, and increased DVM compensation (if using a production-anchored compensation model) a practice should expect >20% profit margin on incremental revenue generated via improved technician leverage.
Improved Productivity Justifies Better Pay
Almost everyone in the veterinary industry will agree: Veterinary technicians do not get paid enough to reflect the skill, training, and intelligence that their job requires. However, veterinary practice owners aren’t pocketing the difference. Most veterinary practice owners are right in their assessment that the money may not be there today to pay their staff significantly more than they already make, as the average hospital runs on delicate and narrow margins and every expense must be carefully justified. The money to pay veterinary technicians more needs to come out of the money that isn’t on the balance sheet yet (but will be), which is the incremental revenue driven by the improved productivity of a better leveraged team that utilizes its technicians to their maximum capability. Putting more responsibility in the hands of technicians and ensuring that there are enough trained and credentialed technicians to get the work done means that a practice can see more patients and get more care accomplished with the same number of veterinarians. More care means more revenue (and in this case, high quality revenue) that can then be reinvested into better compensation for technicians reflective of their elevated role in delivering that care.
Taking the “leap of faith” of increasing staffing, compensation, and adjusting the team’s mentality towards the role that technicians can play in delivering care can be a significant hurdle for practice owners. Having a dedicated business partner like AVP can make the process of navigating growth-oriented changes easier.
Better Job Satisfaction and Better Pay Leads to Retention and Longer Careers
Veterinary healthcare suffers from significantly above-average annual turnover compared to other professions, particularly among technicians and non-credentialed support staff: veterinary technician turnover at veterinary hospitals averages 22%, and overall veterinary employee turnover is 21% (nearly double the national rate across all industries). Not only do practices suffer from high turnover, but the profession suffers from significant loss of skilled workers at the macro-level. The average career length of a veterinary technician is only 5-7 years despite the education and training investment required to add such a skilled worker into the workforce. In a 2016 survey of certified veterinary technicians, only 51% of technicians listed their career intention as “will stay” in veterinary medicine (29% “probably will stay”). Turnover is expensive for businesses, not only in terms of the direct financial cost of replacing employees but also due to the significant disruption in capacity and quality of services due to training new staff and managing an overall inexperienced and undertrained workforce. One estimate puts the cost of hiring and training a new veterinary employee as high as 50-75% of the employee’s annual salary.
Improving compensation is a common retention tool, but not particularly impactful when used by itself. Employees care a lot about having a job that is fulfilling and where they are respected, empowered, and heard. Fifty-two percent of voluntarily exiting employees say their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job, and 51% say that in the three months before they left, neither their manager nor any other leader spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization. Turnover is often avoidable if leadership is actively engaged with their employees about their level of job satisfaction, their goals, and what it takes to retain them. Job satisfaction is also directly linked to job fulfillment. Putting veterinary technicians in a position to play a more active and meaningful role in delivering care and contributing to medical outcomes makes their jobs more personally fulfilling. There will always be busywork that needs to be done, nails that need to be trimmed, and another client to give the same heartworm prevention client education speech to. However, balancing out those more mundane tasks with care delivery tasks that sit at the top end of the trained capability of veterinary technicians can drive a deeper sense of meaning in how technicians feel about their work.
Better and more consistent care from credentialed workers leads to better outcomes
What’s good for veterinary technicians is good for pets. Properly trained healthcare workers being empowered to practice in their greatest capacity is a recipe for consistently high quality of care being delivered. Medical errors are much more commonly driven by lapses in communication, judgement, or knowledge/training rather than ill intent. That’s why it is so important that medical teams have the right people, enough people, everyone has clearly delegated roles, and there are systems and checks in place to ensure that the job gets done right. The quality of patient care is inherently linked to how veterinary healthcare employers choose, manage, and support the teams that deliver that care. Veterinary technicians are the nurses at the heart of that system.
At AVP we have a set of systems used to assess support staff satisfaction and drive performance review conversations. Please reach out to me at email@example.com if you are a clinic owner and would like to find out more about how we engage with and support our employees.
To all the amazing veterinary technicians out there: You are rock stars, and we appreciate you. Keep saving lives!