Thursday, July 21, 2016

Vet techs, turnover, and minimum wage

A good technician is the veterinarian's best friend.  I have been fortunate to work with many good ones over the years and some that were even exceptional.   Sometimes I get even more fortunate in that I work with one of these people long enough to know I can trust them to do what I ask, rely on them to prevent me from getting bit and predict what I will do or want or need.  They know the way I like things and we have a system for doing even the most routine things that even though they seem simple can be awkward or more time consuming with someone new.  These kinds of long term relationships make for seamless workdays, better pet care and good work environments. 

But sadly, this is all too rare.  There is a huge amount of turnover in the veterinary technician field.  The reasons are multi-factorial.  It is a physically challenging job that can be emotionally draining, stressful, thankless, and requires a specialized skill set. Sometimes people just don't have what it takes.  They don't have the stamina, the personality, are unable to master the skills or can't handle the emotional drain.  Sometimes they are run off by clinic owners with bad tempers and unreasonable expectations.  

But I think a big portion of it is the way we value them.  Most of these people just aren't paid enough.  The average vet tech salary across the US is about $13/hour and I would estimate in this part of the country a "competitive" wage would be around $12/hour and may or may not include benefits.  These are people who have jobs that affect lives, put themselves in harms way trying to handle large or aggressive animals, are exposed to zoonotic diseases and frequently get various bodily fluids on them.  It that really a job you would want to do for eight, or ten or twelve dollars an hour?  

One of the issues in the presidential campaign this year is raising of the minimum wage to $15/hour.  I feel like a lot of people are against this and I have had mixed feelings about it myself.  Does the burger flipper at a fast food joint who can't make change deserve $15/hour?  I don't know.  But I do know that I have worked with a number of technicians who are worth their weight in gold and I'm sure made less than $15/hour (which by the way is about $31,000 a year).  And they won't ever get paid that unless it's required.   A lot of these people have put in years of on the job training, and/or attended 2-4 years of school and pursue continuing education.  But as an industry we are basically telling these people they are not worth $31,000 and health insurance.  

And so a lot of them move on.  They leave a job they otherwise love to pursue an education or career in a somewhat related field that will provide them with a better wage.  By comparison the average salary for a dental hygienist or registered nurse is closer to $30/hour.  Obviously these things vary by experience, qualifications and location but difference is still glaringly obvious. 

It will continue to be difficult to attract excellent people into this field and convince them to spend time and money in school if we are not going to pay them what they are worth.  If we are content to have a field of applicants who list "fruit cutting" as a skill and refer to a stethoscope as a "heart beat tool" then by all means lets do nothing.  But if we want good, responsible, hard-working people who know what they are doing then we need to do better.  They have to able to afford to live on this salary.  And for what they do for us, and for the animals, they deserve it!

And I realize this will make the cost of pet care go up.  But good pet owners would rather pay this and know that a trusted, qualified person is the one administering drugs, monitoring anesthesia and hand feeding their sick baby.  For those who don't want to pay there will always be that vet who wants to get by with the high school kid who needs gas money or the warm body who "loves animals."  And trust me, that doctor will have tough time keeping as associate if they want one, but that will be their problem!  And maybe, just maybe, if we pay them enough they will stay at the clinic with the temperamental owner and patient but frustrated associate (which may or may not have been me at one or more points in my career as an associate or relief vet who has been in a lot of different clinics).

Disclaimer: written by someone who has never owned, and does not want to own her own practice

1 comment:

Knotty Toys For Good Dogs said...

Pawsome blog post!
3 bum swings! 3 more!

Nose nudges,
CEO Olivia