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The Six Steps to Improve Your Staffing

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Let’s face it, there just isn’t enough Veterinarians to go around for the amount of work available. Whether this is brand new information for you or you have already come to terms with the facts, you are likely stuck somewhere in the Kübler-Ross model of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, & Acceptance. In this resource, Vet Locum List takes you on a guided tour through these steps and adds on a sixth step to provide helpful direction for moving your practice forwards.

Denial

If this is the first mention you've heard of an insufficent amount of veterinarians, your first thoughts may be of disbelief, either because you haven’t felt the impact of the workforce shortage, or simply because you refuse to believe it. In that case, let’s look at some of the supporting evidence. At the time of writing this, there are 418 veterinary job postings on Kookaburra Vets for Australia alone (yes, we acknowledge they currently have the highest amount of permanent positions posted). The post number breakdown is as follows as per their organization scheme: 73 NSW, 53 Sydney, 37 Vic, 71 Melbourne, 68 SE QLD, 31 QLD, 33 SA, 27 WA, 8 TAS, 13 ACT, & 4 NT. You can check this yourself by clicking here.

Keep in mind that these 418 postings actually represent more than 418 positions, as personal communication with the clinics as well as their staff has suggested that one post often represents several available positions per clinic (often, but not always). Further, at any given time Vet Locum List has 50-100 postings (they fluctuate) for locums, which represents months of available locum work to try to temporarily fill these vacancies until permanent staff can be found. The conclusion? An insignificant number of veterinarians for a field with growing demand.

If you are aware of the shortage, but have convinced yourself it's only temporary, reading on should help move you out of the denial stage...


Anger

“Where did all the vets go? It never used to be like this!” This is true, but the market has been shifting in this direction for a few years. This stage should be relabelled "Anger / Worry" for the veterinary world, as the more important question asks, that with the above information available, who is going to fill all of these positions? New graduates, perhaps?

Acquiring usable statistics on where young veterinarians entering the workforce are going appears to have become recently difficult to accumulate, as the 2016 workforce survey put out by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) (all resources available here) had only 226 survey responses from those under the age of 30, which is down relative to previous years (see 'Figure 1b'). Interestingly, the last 'veterinary workforce review' from the AVA was published in 2013 and stated that there may be an oversupply of vets in the near future. They also estimated that ~500-550 new graduating veterinarians would be available to begin practice each year from the 7 available veterinary schools across Australia. However, our own analysis though communication with students from the graduating classes suggests that around half (a crude estimate, mind you) of these graduates are international students and are likely to return home. These values may account for the discrepancy between expected graduates and the decrease in young survey responders (i.e. many young graduates may not be registering to work in Australia).



AVA Survey Responses
(A) Despite receiving a similar response rate across years, (B) less veterinarians under the age of 30 provided feedback in 2016 as both an absolute response count (left, black), as well as a percentage of total responses (right, grey).
Data for 2015 was not collected. Source: Australian Veterinary Association Workforce Data


However, let’s assume out of optimism that 75% of these veterinarians will be available nationally, which would equate to 375 – 412 (we’ll average to 400) new veterinarians to apply to the 418 postings. It’s a nice thought, however only ~65% of those that responded to the 2016 survey reported to work for solo private, group private, or large corporate practice (which we have grouped together under the label of general practice (GP) [emergency was a separate survey column]). When reviewing the trend, despite a similar number of GP responders across the years, the relative percentage reporting to work in GP has taken a small step down in 2016 (see 'Figure 2' below). This value of 65% reported in 2016 brings us down to ~260* new veterinarians to fill in for all available positions, with the remaining pursuing (in order of abundance as of 2016) government, other, university/research, locuming, referral, and industry. However, these new veterinarians are also needed to fill the additional positions that are constantly being created by burnout, maternity leaves, resignations, sick leaves, etc., not yet accounted for in the 418 postings previously mentioned

When diving in further, information on the number of veterinarians that have taken up full-time work as a locum appears somewhat unrepresentative. Both the absolute and relative number of vets that reported working as a locum in 2016 is ~50% lower than values reported in previous years. Given that (subjectively) the number of locums appears to be increasing, this decreased value may reflect an increase in the number of young veterinarians taking up locuming that could be unaccounted for by the reduction in reponses from the '30 and under' age category. This, however, is only speculative.



Workforce Distribution
(A) Although the absolute number of veterinarians reporting to work in 'general practice' (GP) (left, black) was relatively consistent over time, 2016 saw a small drop in the percent of total GP veterinarians (right, grey). (B) The self-reported number of locums in 2016 dropped by >50%, which correlates with the decreased number of responses from veterinarians <30 years of age.
Data for 2015 was not collected. Source: Australian Veterinary Association Workforce Data


*In taking this all in, we would like to clarify that these numbers are approximated based on the available resources we can gather, however they represent a realistic impression of what to expect when estimating the potential work force to fill your vacancies. This is a little frustrating to swallow, but better sooner than later if you're aiming to adapt to the changing market.


Bargaining

After reading the above information, you should have the impression that not only are less veterinarians becoming available to fill your vacancies, but less of those available are pursuing career paths that are beneficial for you in the long run. You may now be asking “well, what if we paid them more?” Honestly, this may help. Many use modern award as a guide for how much to pay their veterinarians. However, modern award is also influenced by the same administration that predicted an oversupply of vets in their 2013 report. When objectively assessed (and your vets will assess this on their own eventually), the per-hour breakdown of wage for a level 4 veterinarian at modern award on any given day of the week ($33.85/hour) is set lower than modern award for an introductory nurse on a Sunday ($35.40/hour). As stated in our evaluating your worth resource, this is not to say that nurses are over-valued (we’re aware that they can make or break your practice), but this is to say that modern award no longer reflects the cost of education (price x time), liability, or stress of the veterinary profession. When comparing their wages to that of their peers and the casual locums they're exposed to, it's not a surprise that so many veterinarians turn to locuming to bridge the pay gap.

It is also worth noting that the veterinary career path in Australia is known for having a high cost/income ratio, which deters many who are not financially stable from entering the profession. Indeed, when considering the fee calculator available on the University of Melbourne DVM website, which dictates a four-year education cost of $226,748 for domestic students / $272,952 for internationals, one can see how it is far more economical to pursue a DVM in Australia and head out to start working, for example, at $60-75k in North America with a lower cost of living, than remain in Australia and earn $47K with a higher cost of living. Under these circumstances, the cost-benefit ratio is lower (i.e. more beneficial) for international graduates leaving Australia than those entering the workforce here, which may account for the less-than-expected number of available graduates to fill the available positions. We recommend reading this article by The Sydney Morning Herald for more.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the income generated by veterinarians 20-30 years ago can no longer be used to justify modern wages in the profession. The first reason is simply that the profession cannot survive with this rationalle, and secondly, inflation rates for income, the cost of living, and the cost of education each occur uniquely. If you didn’t read the article above, we suggests giving it a scan here (re: the 150% increase in tuition). Some things change more rapidly than others. 20 years ago I recall being told never to get in a stranger's car or meet people from the internet. Today, I summon strangers from the internet for the purpose of getting in their car (i.e. Uber). These are strange times indeed.


Depression

Well hopefully you don’t hit this point. If you're feeling down about staffing, remember that low staff doesn’t mean no staff, and you never know who has been eyeing up work in your clinic. There's always a place for a little sadness (it's healthy), but letting it linger will only hold you back. The market may be changing, but there's no reason for you to stay behind! We have a series of blogs that are set-up to help you get a jump on the competition.


Acceptance

Welcome to acceptance. Let's just clarify that acceptance isn't about giving up, it's about recognizing that 99% of clinics won't be putting up an advertisement only to fill the position that month. It's is about understanding that the situation won't reverse itself anytime soon, and acknowledging the market so you can take the next step. Acceptance is about building a platform for the sixth step, adaptation...


Adaptation

By now you've likely come to terms with the fact that it's no longer a 'if you post it, they will apply' type of market. If Kevin Costner built his field of dreams for the modern vet, it would have likely remained empty. To continue acquiring new staff, the modern clinic will adapt to include marketing in their arsenal. Businesses are accustomed to marketing to their clients, but not to potential staff, and this is simply because they've never had to. This extends beyond the traditional 'post and pray' advertising we're used to, as marketing involves continued exposure, interaction, patience, and adaptation.

This is why at Vet Locum List, we have altered your clinic profile to be accessible with every post, to include links to your website, facebook page, youtube channel, and all other positions available through you. Instead of having a single text space on a page with 418 others - here you have a profile, a face, a team. Your ads may state your staff are a great group, but now you can prove it. You can add current and past staff members that locums can contact, perhaps if they're on the fence or want to learn more about what it's like to work in your clinic. They can even contact you directly through your profile using our messaging system, or follow and receive notifications about your clinic's updates. You can add photographs to your profile to display your gadgets, clinic, work family, or unique niche proudly. We've enhanced your ability to interact with your target market, and for your target market to interact back.

Share it proudly! Social media exposure is essential for the modern clinic. Posting on Facebook will give you exposure, but the specifics of your ads are lost quickly among hundreds of new updates per day. To help with this, you can now share your posts on Facebook with a single click, to give potential staff a link they can bookmark and come back to without having to worry about page updates. Posts are now visible to users who are not logged in, to remove barriers between you and interested applicants.

Remember, marketing requires patience. You didn't put down your Samsung the first time you saw an iPhone ad, then swap back when you saw another Samsung poster. Marketing takes time, exposure, consistency, trial, error, and adaptation. This is why in all of your posts we provide you with the information to track your views, to get an idea of how attractive your work is to applicants, and to allow you to change your strategy to help you advance. Play with your posts, ask questions, and remember that you're in this for the long haul. No exposure here is bad exposure, and marketing is about the summation of exposure. You may not pull them in today, this month, or maybe even this year (hopefully this isn't the case, but see the above evidence if you think that this couldn't to happen to you), but what would you do in the meantime, post and pray? Perhaps. Or perhaps you'll show them who you are every step of the way. Perhaps you'll expose them to the greatness of your clinic and the opportunities it provides. The modern clinic will creep into their consciousness over time to persuade them. If you market, they will come.

The future is about marketing your clinic, and what a place to start!




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